Tuesday, December 11, 2012

A Christmas Mosaic

I was thinking recently about the meaning of the word Mosaic; the blending together of things that are very different to make something that is very beautiful.  One of our Converge MidAtlantic churches is named Mosaic Church.  It’s a blending together of people from very different cultures and traditions, coming together under the banner of Jesus to form something beautiful for His glory!

When I think of the word Mosaic, I also think of the coming together of things that are broken, and these broken pieces being shaped and formed into something that is beautiful.  I think about broken and bruised lives that are blended together in a spiritual community to become something very beautiful for God!

Christmas, for me, is a lot like this kind of Mosaic.  It celebrates the coming together of things that are broken to form something that is amazingly beautiful.

When I think of the Apostle John’s words in chapter 1, when he says, “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us”, I think about the miracle of God becoming man. Theologians call it the Incarnation!  I think about the power of the creator of the universe entering into our broken and fallen world.  I think of the amazingly good news of a God who would care enough about our plight that He would literally become one of us. I’m reminded of the words of the writer to the Hebrews when he said: “For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet without sin” (Heb 4:15).

That’s what Christmas ultimately means to me.  It means God entering into my humanity.  It means God identifying with my weaknesses.  It means God coming and taking my brokenness, and through His brokenness, making something incredibly beautiful. It means my broken down story being wrapped up in His loving story of redemption and grace, and as a result He writes a new story.  That’s why I feel this amazing sense of HOPE, of JOY, of PEACE during this season.  I’m reminded again of the great STORY of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

A storycomes out of the middle ages and the construction of some of the great cathedrals in western Europe. One of the cathedrals was nearly complete, only needing the beautiful stained glass windows to complete the magnificent structure.  The best artisans of the day were summoned to complete the task.  As the dedication of the edifice approached, the town’s leaders were gravely concerned that the largest and most prominent of the windows was still incomplete. The artisans reassured these worried leaders that all would be complete in time for the great dedication of the cathedral.

On the day of the dedication, the leaders of the city gathered early in the morning for one final inspection of the most prominent stained glass window.  As they looked upward, the reflection of the sun’s light shined through this most prominent window in a manner that was more glorious than they had ever seen. The hues of the color palette were magnificent beyond description.  They were literally awestruck at the beauty of this just completed stained glass window.

In awe and amazement, they inquired of the master artisan about how this window had become the glorious feature that it was?  They inquired too about why the work had been done so late in the game. How could all this be?  The reply was simple yet profound.  They shared with the town’s leaders that they had taken the broken and left over pieces from the other windows and had used them to craft this one remaining, most prominent window.

Yes, Christmas reminds me and it helps me to celebrate the powerful and loving work that God did and continues to do in taking my brokenness, my pain, my weaknesses, and through the Person of Jesus our Savior, makes something quite beautiful, for His glory and praise.

To the entire Converge MidAtlantic family, Sandi and I want to convey our deep gratitude for the privilege of serving Jesus with you.  And we want to offer you our prayers and hopes that YOUR Christmas will also be one of Joy, and Hope, and Peace because of Jesus our Lord and Savior.

Lovingly in Christ,

Dan and Sandi Peterson
Converge MidAtlantic

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

A Lesson about Faith!

Wednesday, October 31 was an amazing day for me!  God gave me the opportunity to get acquainted with and minister to a 15 month old church plant in urban Philadelphia named the Philadelphia Vietnamese Christian Fellowship.  What a blessing it was to meet these friends in Jesus, and to observe their faith in God!

I was treated to a gourmet Vietnamese luncheon at the home of one of the church leaders!  Pastor Kevin and his wife Cindy (the church’s pastor and wife), a couple of the church leaders, and Pastor Phan, our Vietnamese pastor from Northern Virginia, all joined in on the meal!  Not sure what all they fed me, but it was all very good!  After sharing together about their church and about Converge and what is involved in a church affiliating with Converge, they took me over to a building the church has purchased and will be remodeling in the coming weeks.  Great vision!

Then, we traveled to the house of Pastor Kevin and nail salon where his wife works, and where a basement room has been converted into a temporary worship center for the church. By 8:00 pm that evening, the room was filled with about 50 people of all ages who worshiped the Lord with incredible energy and passion!  I preached with Pastor Phan interpreting, there was a time of prayer, and the service started to wind down around 10:00 pm.  As soon as the service was over, chairs were moved, tables were set up, and another amazing Vietnamese dinner followed!  During the meal, a number of men and women shared their stories of how their lives had been totally transformed through the ministry of this new church. One shared how he had come to Jesus out of a Buddhist family background.  Another shared how Christ had delivered him from demonic oppression.  Pastor Kevin pointed out others who had experienced physical healing as a result of prayers of faith. Some of the people stayed around until 11:00 pm, just talking and sharing, and praying together. Even the children were engaged in worship of Jesus.  What a powerful time of Christian fellowship, worship, and ministry together!

I got to bed around 12:30 am, but my heart was full.  God is moving in really cool ways in groups and in cities in our region.  These folks have a vision to reach the 30,000 Vietnamese people living in metro Philadelphia.  They want to plant several new churches across the city. And, with what seems like limited resources, but with large faith, God is doing a great work.  Lord, help my faith to grow. Truly, let my faith grow!

In Jesus,

Dan Peterson
Converge MidAtlantic

Monday, October 22, 2012

Keeping my Passion for Jesus Alive!

Last week, I hit the pause button on everything I needed to “get done”, and spent a half a day in prayer, reflection, and devotional reading.  It was so hard to “shut down” and “shut out” all of the pressing distractions.  Yet, God broke through my busyness and met with me in a very special way.

One book that helped me in the process was Brennan Manning’s Abba’s Child.  I re-read most of book in one setting. Wow, I needed this special reminder that I am loved by God, regardless of what I do, whether or not my performance for Him or others was satisfactory or not, and regardless of what my own thoughts or feelings may be telling me. Its hard for me to really believe that God honestly loves me as I am.

A few of the ideas and word pictures that Brennan Manning used to help me get reconnected with the Love of my Father were statements like these:

·        “In my experience, self hatred is the dominant malaise crippling Christians and stifling their growth in the Holy Spirit. . . . We learn to be gentle with ourselves by experiencing the intimate, heartfelt compassion of Jesus”.
·        “For many years I hid from my true self through my performance in ministry.  I constructed an identity through sermons, books, and storytelling.  I rationalized that if the majority of Christians thought well of me, there was nothing wrong with me.  The more I invested in ministerial success, the more real the imposter became”. He goes on to write about living by grace, not by performance and not as a people pleaser!
·        “Define yourself radically as one Beloved by God.  God’s love for you and his choice of you constitute your worth.  Accept that, and let it become the most important thing in your life”.
·        “My identity as Abba’s Child is not an abstraction or a tap dance into religiousity.  It is the core truth of my existence.  Living in the wisdom of accepted tenderness profoundly affects my perception of reality, the way I respond to people and their life situations”.
·        Manning writes about the idea “present risenness, and living in the reality of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  He says, “The resurrection of Jesus must be experienced as more than just a past historical event.  In other words, the resurrection needs to be experienced as present risenness”.  He goes on to write, “ The present risenness of Jesus as life giving Spirit means that I can cope with anything.  I am not on my own”.  As Paul writes in Ephesians 1:18-19, “I pray that you may realize . . . how vast are the resources of His Spirit available to us”.

These and other powerful ideas in Manning’s classic work helped to keep my own passion for Jesus alive.  I came again to discover that the Spirit of Jesus is alive in my life.  I was reminded again, that while the enemy seeks to undermine the reality of being “Beloved by God”, that God is able to break through the enemy’s lies.  I came to realize that while all of the work and responsibilities that hang over my head are important, there is still one thing more important, and that is staying connected with the true Source of spiritual life and power.   At the end of my little half day with God, I actually broke down in tears, feeling like a needy helpless child, but a helpless child falling into the arms of a tender, loving Father.  God thank you for loving me with an everlasting love.  For the moment, I’m just resting in that love!

In Jesus love,

Dan Peterson
A fellow traveler

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Preaching to myself

Recent weeks have provided me with some pretty cool preaching opportunities in churches across our movement.  What I always find is that God uses these focused times in the Word to speak to me as much as to anyone else!

On Sunday, August 12, I preached at Old North Church in Canfield.  They were in a teaching series through the Book of I Samuel, and I was given the assignment to preach on the story of Saul and the Witch of Endor from I Samuel 28.  Hey, thanks a lot, guys!  As I prayed, and studied, and talked to everybody I know who might offer some insight about what was really going on when this medium evidently brought Samuel back from the dead to speak directly to Saul, I came upon a little known epilogue to the story that really touched my heart.  At the end of this horrific encounter between Saul and Samuel, and following Samuel’s prophetic word that Saul would die in battle the next day, the witch of Endor offered to cook a meal for King Saul before he and his men departed from her home.  Saul declined, but then at the prompting of his men, he agreed to let this woman prepare a final meal for him.

As I studied, and then as I shared in the message at Old North, I came to believe that this little incident was really a veiled reference to the grace of God which is always at work in any situation. Here, in the midst of tragedy, irony, and pathos, the witch of Endor prepares a final meal for the King of Israel . . . . she blesses him, and ministers to his physical need for food.

The lesson I shared with the church is appropriately summarized in the words of one scholar (Ken Boa), as he stated: “what do you when your life story is all broken up . . .  when your story doesn’t turn out the way you planned for it to go?  The answer he writes is: “you wrap up your story in the story of God”.  Wow! What an incredible lesson for me, and I think for all of us! Rarely do our life stories turn out the way we anticipated.  Yet, in the midst of all the brokenness, God through His grace begins to write a new and better story. I needed to be reminded of this.  I found that I was actually preaching to myself that Sunday in Canfield, OH!

This past Sunday, September 2, I had the opportunity to preach at Hillcrest Baptist in Jamestown, NY.  It was Labor Day weekend.  Part of me wished I was with my wife and family.  I wasn’t looking forward to the nearly 3 hour drive from Youngstown, OH. On Monday, we had plans to drive to Michigan to spend some time with my mother in the nursing home near Sturgis, MI.

Yet, as I preached from I Thessalonians 1 on the qualities of Faith, and Love, and Hope, which made the Thessalonican church strong and powerful, I found that the Holy Spirit was speaking to me as much as He was speaking through me.  As I talked about a community of people who are known by love, who live out a servant’s heart in action with one another and within their community, God reminded me that being a servant may just involve going out of my way.  It may involve traveling to Jamestown when I’d rather be with my family.  It may involve the flexibility of serving others when it might be more convenient to only think of myself.  I might involve driving to Sturgis, MI to spend some time with my dear mother who is nearing the end of her life journey.

Yes, it seems like God was speaking through me.  People responded to this message about living by faith, and being known by love, and proclaiming a message of hope.  But, honestly, I was the one that was blessed and challenged by the Word.  It was like I was preaching to myself!

All of this reminds me of the words of one saint and scholar who told me: “preaching is not the making of a sermon and delivering it.  Rather, preaching is the making of a preacher, and delivering it”.

Thanks, God for keeping me in the center of your anvil of transformation.  I do realize that to be an agent of transformation and leading a movement of transformational churches, probably requires that I be the one who continually is being transformed by the Spirit.  Please, keep changing me, Lord.  It’s a good thing!

Poland, OH
September, 2012

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Sabbatical Comes to a Close

God has given Sandi and me an absolutely fantastic 12 week sabbatical journey.  We've been able to accomplish many of our goals, including some quality time with our family, a focus on our marriage relationship, a focus on our relationship with Christ, and some great work including research and writing on the role of District conferences like ours in church ministry today.

Some of the highlight and takeaways that we will carry forward as we enter back into regular work and family duties include:

  • A deep sense of appreciation for our heritage, and how God has woven our family and spiritual stories. The trip to Sweden was so special in this regard!
  • Numerous keys to maintaining and igniting our personal walk with Christ and continuing to grow in intimacy with Him.  The 4 day experience at The Cove with Ken Boa was instrumental with this.
  • A deeper understanding of how to meet each other's needs as a couple, and of the needs and passions of our grandchildren and children.  Quality time with each other and with family, has helped us with this.
  • Many lessons on leadership and on keys to generating interest and financial support for our Converge Mid Atlantic church planting organization.  The Christian Leadership Alliance conference we attended in Orlando in early April helped a lot with this.
  • A deep sense of renewed conviction regarding my calling as a movement leader for Converge Mid Atlantic, and some keen insights into what our organization needs to be focusing on to remain vital and effective in the future.  Reading, research, and much writing greatly helped with this project!
Both Sandi and I want to thank our Converge Mid Atlantic Board of Overseers for their commitment to serving us by granting this sabbatical season.  I am praying that God will honor and bless their willingness to grant us this time.  I also want to thank Gary Schroeder and Bob McClain for filling in for me in many duties during these past 12 weeks.  It couldn't have happened without their support.  Thanks much, guys!

I'm praying that God will see fit to use me for his greater glory as I return back to normal ministry duties in the weeks and months ahead.  I'm excited and very optimistic about what I believe He will do in and through those who are fully devoted to Him and seek to serve Him with pure and holy hearts.

Warmly in Christ,

Dan Peterson
Converge Mid Atlantic

Monday, June 18, 2012

Sabbatical Journey to The Cove - A Mountaintop Spiritual Highlight

Without a doubt, the high point spiritually, for our sabbatical experience was an incredible 4 day conference at the Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove near Asheville, NC, June 7-10, 2012.  The setting was spectacular!  The hospitality of The Cove was outstanding!  We enjoyed the fellowship of meeting and getting to know a good number of the 75 other conference participants!  Yet, the biggest spiritual impact came from the Conference speaker, Dr. Ken Boa.  Dr. Boa's seminar was entitled: "Living Fully in the Present"!

The thrust of Ken's teaching centered around the concept that who we are in Christ is most fundamental and must shape what we do.  He taught us and reminded us that doing must flow out of being. He stated that: "who we are in Christ is the basis for what we do.  The key is faithfulness in the journey, rather than living from one product or result to the next. Spiritual growth is inside out, not outside in".

Over the course of the 3 days of teaching, Ken helped us to see that God wants us to be process focused rather than product focused.  He talked about things such as Practicing the Presence of God in our daily routine.  He talked about cultivating an attitude of trust in God, gratitude, and contentment.

Here's a brief summary of some of the key ideas that stuck with me!

  • Many of us have a tendancy to always live in the future - a tendancy to invest our energies in accomplishing future goals
  • "It's not for us to determine our times, but to decide what to do with what we have been given" (from The Fellowship of the Rings)
  • Spiritual growth is long obedience in the same direction.  This often involves living with ambiguity
  • The trilogy of faith, hope, and love, are 3 keys to the spiritual life.  Faith is not a leap into the dark, but a step into the light
  • The Christian life is lived by faith, sustained by hope and exemplified by love
  • One of the big problems of our day is the problem of busyness.  We need a sabbath regularly
  • We must combat busyness by developing a clear sense of mission, by saying no to the good and yes to the best, by knowing our personal limits, by freeing ourselves of the expectations of others, and by seeking a balance between rest and work
  • We can get so involved in causes, even good causes, that we fail to focus on Christ and nurture intimacy with our Savior
  • The greatest competition to devotion to Jesus is service for Him - Oswald Chambers
  • When discussing practicing the presence of God, "what appears to be secular, actually is spiritual, if the focus of our hearts is eternal"
  • Trust, Gratitude, and Contentment are 3 keys to living fully in the present and to cultivating intimacy with Christ
  • Gratitude has a short half life.  It quickly degerates into entitlement
  • Gratitude is a choice, not merely a feeling.  We cannot give thanks and complain at the same time
There was so much more I could write about.  It was a rich and powerful time.  Both Sandi and I made a list of some very practical action steps that we are committed to implementing in our daily and weekly lives as we seek to apply these teachings in the "busyness" of life.

Perhaps most powerful for me, was when Ken spoke about how he seeks to focus on 4 Scriptures every morning when he wakes up.  I am inspired to seek to do this as well.  Here's a summary of these 4 powerful passages from the Apostle Paul!

  • Ephesians 1:17-19 - "I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation so that you may know Him better.  I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe".
  • Ephesians 3:16-19 - "I pray that out of his glorious riches, he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.  And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge - that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God".
  • Philippians 1:9-11 - "And this is my prayer, that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ - to the glory and praise of God".
  • Colossians 1:9-12 - "For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you, and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will, through all spiritual wisdom and understanding.  And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way; bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience and joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light".
Wow, these are powerful verses!  The Conference at The Cove was a powerful time.  Sandi and I are very grateful for the privilege to have experienced this mountaintop time with Christ.  We believe that the impact will have eternal effect!



Friday, May 25, 2012

Our Sabbatical Journey Takes Us to the Land of Sweden

Earlier this week, Sandi and I returned from what will probably be the biggest highlight of our 12 week sabbatical.  It was our 12 day trip to Sweden, the country where all four of my grandparents were born; the place of my heritage. The trip had highs and lows; times of incredible blessing and insight into our family story, and times of challenge and struggle as we traveled some long days, and I tried to pack too much into one rather short trip!

We stayed with one living relative family for 3 nights, as they showed us around the area where my mother's father and his siblings and parents were born and grew up (the Sundsvall, Sweden area). One wonderful highlight during these days, was talking with my mother by phone on mother's day, and listening to her carry on a conversation with our Swedish hosts in Swedish! It brought tears to our eyes. We traveled to the area where my dad's father and mother were born and grew up (Kumla and Kristinehamn, Sweden). In these areas, we visited churches, homes, and schools where my grandparents learned of Jesus, and studied. We learned about our family story by tracking down burial sites of my ancestors (really interesting!!). We even spoke with one farmer who had lived in the area where my great grandmother lived.

We wrapped up the trip with 4 nights in Stockholm, Sweden's capital city.  We walked and walked and walked.  We visited numerous museums and sites of interest.  We ate dinner in local cafes. We tried to get to know some of the hotel and restaurant workers.  All in all, we had a fabulous time, in what to us is a world class city.  Stockholm has so much to see and experience. It's a city essentially built on a series of islands.  It has incredible history, and it is a thriving, and seemingly prosperous city.

As Sandi and I reflected on this amazing experience, there are at least 3 major takeaways that made a lasting impression on us.  For me, these are really some life changing things.

The first takeaway is the incredible sense of appreciation for my spiritual heritage.  All 4 of my grandparents grew up in a country and a time when the state church in Sweden was the dominant strand of religious activity.  It was, for the most part, a formal, perhaps orthodox, yet with no vitality, life, or spiritual passion. Children and their parents would go through the rituals of religion, most likely without knowing Jesus Christ in a personal and vital way, much less in a way that impacted every day living.  In this backdrop, my dad's father grew up in a home of a man (my great grandfather), who came to a personal relationship with Christ in a home Bible study. This home Bible study was a part of the early pietistic movement throughout Sweden. It was the forerunner of our own Converge (Baptist General Conference movement). My mother's dad (my grandfather) started attending a small evangelical church in their village.  It was a church where the Bible was prominent, and where the need for a personal relationship with Christ was taught. This heritage, which made a huge impact on my father and on my mother is hard for me to fathom.  What an incredible privilege and blessing!  What a profound heritage!

The second takeaway is the amazing sense of appreciation for the hardships and struggles that my grandparents and their parents endured. My mother's father was orphaned at a young age, and struggled for food and even a place to live.  My father's grandfather wandered around central Sweden as a young boy, just trying to find food and some kind of work to support himself.  My mother's mother grew up in a village on an island in Sweden where her father was a sailor. In the prime of his life, with a large and growing family, he ventured out on a sailing trip one day, never to return, perishing at sea. In the midst of these hardships and incredible challenges, however, all 4 of my grandparents found a way to eventually emmigrate to the U.S., at age 16, age 18, age 18, and age 25.  What an amazing story of God's protection, God's provision, and His sovereignty in the midst of adversity.

The third major takeaway is the incredible need for spiritual renewal and revival in Sweden today. In talking to people, in observing the lifestyle of so many, and from all we have heard and read, Sweden is again in need of a movement of God's Spirit that is real and powerful.  Converge is presently partnering with a movement leader from Stockholm who is seeking to plant at least 20 churches in the coming years.  Both Sandi and I would like to learn more about this opportunity, and explore ways that our network of churches may be able to get involved as well. We are committed to making this a matter of prayer.

We are very grateful to my brothers and sisters, to other family members, and to a number of our Converge leaders who encouraged us to take this journey.Each of our personal stories are unique. I see God's hand all over my personal and family story. It's really amazing!

Monday, May 7, 2012

Sabbatical Reflections - Week 5 - Studies from Joshua

During the months of April and early May, my sabbatical devotional study has been from the Book of Joshua.  What a fantastic study of re-exploring how the reign of God advanced in the days of Israel as God used Joshua to lead Israel into the promised land.  What a cool reminder of some of the principles God will use today to see his reign advance in communities in our region and around our world.

Some of many spiritual principles and teachings I observed from this dynamic book include:

  • The reality of God's protection of His people - God used Rahab to protect those spying out the land of Canaan.  What a reminder of how God protects his people today.  He is on our side.  As the song we sing reminds us: "If our God is for us, then who can be against us". We can be on mission for Christ with courage and confidence.
  • Our need for full dependence and reliance on God in all we do. It was God who brought deliverance for Israel as they captured the city of Jericho.  Today, we must be in prayer and complete dependence on Christ in all we do.  The men of Israel were circumcised prior to going into battle.  We too, must be spiritually prepared as we do battle with the enemy of our soul.
  • The use of sound strategy in our mission efforts for God - As Israel went into battle at Ai, we see a clever and effective ambush strategy that God gave to Joshua. We must be wise and strategic in our efforts to push back to realm of the enemy as well.  We must give our best mentally, emotionally, physically, and of course, spiritually to see God's reign advance.
  • God wants to see specific communities reached and His reign impact specific places in our region and our world.  In Joshua 12-13 and later in Joshua, we see a detailed listing of all of the cities that were taken by Joshua and Israel, of course, through God's hand. The writer goes to great length to describe each and every city and each and every king. To me, this a great reminder that God wants to use us today to impact specific communities, specific cities and specific regions for the Gospel.  It also reminds me that these specific communities have strongholds that need to be taken down in order for God's reign to advance.  God give us courage, wisdom, and spiritual discernment as we seek to impact the specific communities that you have called us as a movement and each church in our movement to transform.
  • Faithfulness over the long haul - probably the story that touches me as much as any story in the Book of Joshua, is the story of Caleb, and his desire at age 85 to take one more mountain for God. When he makes the statement to Joshua that he is just as strong now as he was 45 years earlier, wow, what a challenge and inspiration!  God, help me to remain faithful over the long haul, and give me the faith to continue to dream great dreams for your glory!
  • God's faithfulness to His people - This theme runs through the entire Book of Joshua, but is so clear in the closing chapters as Joshua repeatedly reminds the people that "every promise that the Lord your God has given to you has been fulfilled". He reminds Israel that "I gave you a land on which you did not toil and cities you did not build, and you live in them and eat from vineyards and olive groves that you did not plant". Wow, what a statement of God's faithful to us as His people.  He has blessed us in many many ways.  He has given us salvation, redemption, made us a part of His family, given us a great and wonderful privilege to be involved in His mission; all of this is due to His faithfulness, not ours.  None of this is due to anything we have done.  Yet, of course, it is that which leads us to seek to surrender all that we have and all that we are to this faithful and gracious God.
What a blessing and encouragement it has been to focus my reading and devotional thoughts on one Book of the Bible - to see these great themes of God's faithfulness, and of the mission that He has called us to fulfill. As Joshua challenged Israel of old, "how long will you wait before you begin to take possession of the land?"  God, give me the courage to act upon all the promises that you have made to me.  Help us as your people today to do the same!

Dan Peterson
Ontario, OH

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Sabbatical reflections - week 3

Our 12 week sabbatical journey has gotten off to a fantastic start.  One of our objectives has been to strengthen family relationships and nurture the lives of each of our kids and grand kids.  We saw this happening in a number of very positive ways on our Family Getaway in the Smoky Mountains the first week of April.

There were 10 of us all together. Sandi and I and the kids and grand kids, spending a week in a cabin in the Smokies! What a fantastic time of bonding together, of enjoying the beauty of God's creation, and of simply being family.  Two experiences stand out for me.  One was driving through Cades Cove, trying to spot any bear in the area.  We drove and drove and drove and saw nothing.  Then, out of the blue, when it was almost dark, we saw a mother bear and her cub.  It was a lesson in perseverance.  There really is the tendency to give up too soon in many of our endeavors!  We saw that big black bear because we were willing to go around one more bend in the road.  And it was worth the extra mile!

The second experience that stands out for me was the white water rafting trip we all took.  It was a new experience for our family.  And what an adventure it was.  We traveled through as many as fifteen class 3 rapids, and five class 4 rapids. We all were certain that the raft would flip over. We had no idea how we managed to stay in that thing, thinking we would certainly be thrown into the raging waters.  We traveled headlong into huge boulders and over numerous rocks all along the trip.  It was an amazing hour and a half journey!  Yet, our guide had it all under control.  There was no concern or anxiety on his face. He was simply doing his job and enjoying the ride as well.

What a cool reminder of our God who guides His children along life's journey.  He can be trusted. He really does have it all under control.

This Tennessee Family Getaway definitely created some memories which will not soon be forgotten.  I believe we are a tighter unit because of this time together.  We learned to appreciate each other's unique qualities and to put up with one another's quirks.  What a wonderful blessing to spend quality time with family.  It's a blessing I don't want to take for granted.  Help me, God, to do my part to nurture these relationships along, and to enjoy each moment along the way!

WEEK 2 of the sabbatical experience was a fairly intense conference in Orlando, FL, called the Christian Leadership Alliance Conference.  It's an annual leadership experience for those involved in leadership in Christian organizations.  The theme of this year's event was "The Heart of Leadership".  There were incredible messages that really challenged me and inspired me.  I also attended 9 stand alone intense workshops, many of them dealing with issues related to funding development for organizations like Converge MidAtlantic.

I'd like to share now about some of the personal inspiration and challenge I received from the big room sessions!  They were great.

MARK MILLER, one of the top leaders from the Chick Fil-A organization spoke on becoming a life long learner!  The primary focus of this session was the idea that for leaders, our capacity to grow, determines our capacity to lead.  Mark reminded us that leaders need to be people who themselves are growing and learning.  He suggested 4 areas where every leader needs to be growing.

He suggested that we simply need to grow by gaining knowledge.  We must gain knowledge about ourselves, about others, about our business, and about leadership.  Secondly, Mark suggested that becoming a life long learner involves reaching out to others.  This involves having a sharing mindset.  He encouraged us all to be active in sharing our ideas and learnings with others! Things like blogging and other social networking activities can be helpful.

A third way a leader can become a life long learner is by opening up our world - by constantly growing in our life experiences.  He used the analogy of an artist, who rather than simply painting in one color, has a palette with many many colors.  As we add new experiences to our life, we paint with many colors.  This can involve things like meeting new people, doing things each year that stretch us, traveling to new places, getting involved with people from other cultures, and the like!

A fourth way a leader can become a life long learner is by walking in wisdom.  This involves things such as getting feedback from other people, seeking counsel from others, and having mentors or a coach.  Mark really did challenge me to be a life long learner.  It's something I have to work hard at!

A SECOND BIG ROOM SPEAKER that made an impression on me was Pastor David Loveless, Lead Pastor of Discovery Church in Orlando, FL.

David spoke about Invisible leadership which overcomes Impossible circumstances.  He suggested the radical idea that the heart of leadership is more about believing than it is about leading.  He said that Kingdom leaders see the impossible but they operate out of the invisible.  He indicated that we must face the impossible but not focus on it.  He said we must focus on the invisible so we can do the impossible.  Finally, he said, we must walk and lead by faith until we see the impossible become possible.

He shared from the Elisha story in II Kings, were Elisha sees God's army which was invisible to his servant.  All the servant could see were the armies of the enemy.  Yet, God's army was much stronger than the strength of the enemy's army.

I'm personally challenged to find ways to operate more in this realm - to believe that God truly is more than able to overcome the impossible circumstances that I often face, yet to be able to walk by faith until the impossible truly does become possible.  God help me in this endeavor!

A THIRD SIGNIFICANT BIG ROOM MESSAGE for me was the message by Gordon McDonald, a 73 year old Christian leader who has experienced all the ups and downs of ministry and leadership, and thus speaks with great wisdom and insight.

Gordon spoke about the contrasts in leadership style today.  Most organizations including Christian organizations, highly value things like competency, charisma, and vision, as some of the most important ingredients for leadership.  In contrast to these above the line values, one biblical leader who exhibited leadership qualities that are below the surface or below the line was John the Baptist.  His heart of leadership is clearly seen in how he responded when the crowds turned away from him and began to follow Jesus.  Gordon helped me to see how John's response in John 3:27-30 reveals the true heart of a leader.

John the Baptizer said this: "A man can receive only what is given him from heaven.  You yourselves can testify that I said, I am not the Christ, but am sent ahead of him.  The bride belongs to the bridegroom.  The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom's voice.  That joy is mine and is now complete.  He must become greater.  I must become less."

Wow!  These are powerful words.  Gordon McDonald reminded us that John clearly understood 4 of the most important questions that every leader must wrestle with internally.

Question #1 - What has been entrusted to me?  John saw himself as a steward.  What he had as a ministry was never really his.  It had been given to him by God!
Question #2 - Who am I?  John knew who he was.  He knew that he was a child of God, called to be a servant of Christ.
Question #3 - What is my calling? John understood that his calling was to focus on Jesus, rather than on himself.
Question #4 - What is my strategic objective?  John understood that "He must increase, but I must decrease".  He knew what his purpose was at each particular point in his ministry journey.

These 4 questions, and the example of John the Baptist, are a powerful reminder to me of the inner life of every ministry leader.  These are the questions that need to be answered clearly for each of us in public ministry.  Really, how we answer the private issues of who we are, what our calling is, and what our purpose is at any moment in time, will clearly determine what God can do with our public ministry.  Ministry really does flow out of our heart, out of who we are on the inside.

For me, this was really good stuff!  My heart has been filled and my mind stretched.  I am very grateful for the opportunity to have heard from God through these servants. I am much the better for it!

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Dan's Sabbatical

Beginning April 1, 2012, Sandi and I will be embarking on a 12 week season of personal and professional renewal involving a sabbatical study leave, which is offered to our Converge MidAtlantic Executive leaders every 7 years. We are very grateful for this opportunity! Gary Schroeder and Overseer Board member Bob McClain will be assuming my duties during this period of time. I know that they, and our excellent office staff will provide quality leadership and service to our churches and District ministries during this period of time.

Our sabbatical plan will involve special focus on three areas of personal, spiritual, and professional development. One sphere will involve the renewing of our inner life. This will involve reading, reflection, solitude, journeling and time with a spiritual director.

A second sphere will focus on the renewal of our marriage and family relationships. We have a special family retreat planned. Sandi and I will be attending a special marriage and spiritual enrichment experience at The Cove (the Billy Graham retreat center in Ashville, NC). And we are planning on some quality one on one time with each of our 5 children and 6 grandchildren.

A third sphere of focus will involve research, study, and one professional conference related to the changing role of denominational entities like Converge MidAtlantic. I hope to do some writing on the new and changing role of middle judicatories, and the profile of a middle judicatory leader for organizations such as Converge MidAtlantic.

One additional special feature of this sabbatical will be the opportunity to explore some of my own personal and family story through a 12 day journey to Sweden. I have the places identified where all 4 of my grandparents lived and grew up. We still have at least one living relative in Sweden, whom we hope to visit. Sandi and I will be traveling over there in mid May in an effort to better understand and appreciate my family story and history. It should be interesting!

We value your prayers for us during this special time of renewal and growth. Pray that God will indeed rekindle a new passion for Himself, and for the great calling He has on our lives as we seek to serve Him even more effectively here in this region and in this movement we call Converge MidAtlantic. We will return to our regular duties in late June, just in time to be involved at the Biennial Meetings for Converge Worldwide at First Baptist Church of Glenarden.

With anticipation,

Dan Peterson, Executive Minister

Converge MidAtlantic