my first blog

In 2006, I made my first attempt at blogging.  James Cherian & I actually co-blogged our trip to the Vineyard National Conference.  I originally posted that on iWeb, so I’m trying to consolidate & get everything over here…

It is a bit long, but I hope you’ll enjoy:
my first attempt @ blogging…




Bob & James Excellent Adventure

Why Bob & James Excellent Adventure? We thought that sounded better than “Fear & Loathing in Columbus!”   Plus, we are not anticipating either fear or loathing.

Anyways, James & Bob are going on a road trip and we are going to try a little experiment. You get to be the judge of whether or not it actually works!

The Vineyard is holding its National Leadership Conference beginning on Monday, May 2 in Columbus, OH, and we are going to try and keep a journal here on-line.

I won’t make any promises about how amazing or interesting it will be, but it should be different.

 Day # 1 The Drive

Bears really aren’t that scary at 70 miles per hour.

James and I left Ithaca at 4 pm on Sunday and drove down to Wellsboro, Pa to pick up Bob Morris before we headed on to Columbus for the Vineyard’s National Conference.

Now the average trip through PA includes countless miles of mountains, strip mines, towns with weird names, and bulletin boards for adult bookstores. Just before sunset, we saw something that I had never seen before.

My first thought was, that is a really big dog. But as we got closer, I realized that for the first time in my life, I was seeing a black bear that didn’t live in a cage and beg for food from little kids.

As I recounted this experience to Hannah about 20 minutes later, I said, “bears really aren’t that scary when you pass them in a car doing 70 miles per hour.” From the safety of my rented Chevy Impala, I could actually think something as profound as, “I wish my camera weren’t in the trunk.”

Later that night I thought, what if I encountered this 400-pound bear in another setting. What if I had simply taken a stroll though the woods on a lazy Sunday afternoon? What if I passed the last tree in the woods, and waited for a few seconds as my eyes adjusted to the bright light in this clearing? And what if, when they finally were able to focus, what they saw was a creature that could out run me, out climb me, out fight me, and basically out anything me?

I don’t think my main desire would have been for my camera.

When I was in third and fourth grade, the various classes would have track meets against each other. For both of those years, I was in the same event. Since this was the 1970s, political correctness, was not yet in vogue, so my event was accurately, and descriptively called the “slow relay.” The slow relay was basically a way of taking the 4 overweight kids every class seemed to have and give them a chance to win something too.

I bring that up so say, in a car with a speedometer that goes up to 120 mph, I felt no fear. For the kid who ran the third leg on the “husky” relay team, meeting a bear, would be a very different encounter altogether I would guess.

I don’t suppose I would have been able to see an unrestrained bear for the first time, and 30 seconds later think, I hope that there is a good place to eat at the next exit.

And as I thought about this, it made me think about how safe modern Christianity has tried to make God. We have done a lot to sanitize Him and sand off all of His “rough edges.”

As we speed past Him, safe an comfortable in our busy little lives. He inspires a sense of awe as we gaze at him over our shoulders, but not much fear.

But what if we encountered him face to face.

What if we didn’t have the means of avoiding this interaction? There is that great line from the Chronicles where one of the children is told that Aslan is not a tame lion.

Yet what we want is a safe Savior. A Savior who want us to be happy…who wants us to be safe as we speed by at 70 mph on our way to the salad bar at the Eat n Park.

That bear was very cool…But that was 240 miles ago…I’ll remember that sight for a long time. But as cool as that experience was it didn’t change me…I think meeting her on my stroll through the woods might have had a different impact.

Day 2 –

note: we got into Columbus at 2am this morning & got to bed at 3. it is now after 11 pm…i say that simply to say, please forgive my spelling & grammar…I hope this makes sense!)
This is the third National Conference that James & I have attended together. We went to Anaheim in 1999 & 2001. However we missed the 2003 conference.

As we walked in to the Columbus Vineyard this afternoon, it started to hit me how good it feels to be around these people. I have never been to the Columbus Vineyard for a Sunday service, but I’ve come for 3 or 4 conferences over the past 7 or so years. And each and ever time I leave this place, I feel like I have learned so much. Not only that, but I always go back to Ithaca feeling like I’ve encountered God. And I head back to Ithaca excited about what he has for our church.

The afternoon session started with some worship…now I love worshipping in Ithaca on Sunday mornings, and during our Friday night worship nights. (And I’m not just saying that because I’m married to the worship leader). But there is something about getting together with a thousand or so people who are out doing the same thing you do, but have taken 5 days to come together and worship Jesus. Clapping seems to go better when you have more than 100 too:-)

After worship, Bert Waggoner , the Vineyard’s national director spoke about the Vineyard & where it is headed. (I think each of the messages will be up on line in the next few days, so I’ll put up links when they are.) As he spoke it hit me how much I love being a part of this movement. Now I believe each part of the church has value…each part brings something unique, and has value. But there is something about being part of something that just fits you…where you don’t feel like a square peg in a round hole…But as I was sitting there I just had this feeling of sitting in a big overstuffed chair with my shoes kicked off…I am home.

I guess I don’t make too big of a deal of it back in Ithaca, but all of us who are part of the Ithaca Vineyard are part of something that is really special. This is the tribe that God has placed us in. I am so thankful for that…I love this thing called the vineyard, more the longer I am in it.

One last thing about the Vineyard & I’ll move on. I grew with a pretty cynical view of authority…most of my life they have had to prove to me that they deserve to be followed before I would go along. As I have watched the people leading the vineyard at all levels, I am continually humbled by the humility, grace and selflessness these people demonstrate. It just always feels like it really is all about Jesus.

Session #2

Gordon Fee spoke tonight & when he was done, I just sat there thinking “wow…i wish I could do what he does.” (Dr. Fee is ordained with Assemblies of God, and a professor at Regent in Vancouver). So often there is this struggle in the church between “intellect” & “the Spirit.” And here is a guy who has merged these two so amazingly well.

This is already starting to get a bit long so I’ll let you know I am buying the dvd of this session…he spoke from 1 Corinthians about ” the Jews demand a sign and the Greeks demand wisdom.” Most of us have probably heard a bunch of sermons on that passage, but “wow.”

Dr. Fee will be leading devotions for each of the next 3 mornings…guess I won’t be tempted to catch up on my sleep for a few days!

Day Three – James joins the fray

It’s funny, how sometimes you hear certain things over and over again- it
seems even more profound than the last time you heard it.  It’s kind of like in the cartoons when Woody Woodpecker rolls down a snowy slope and ends up becoming this huge snow ball crashing into Wally Walrus’s house or something.

More often than not, hearing things over and over again is more like
someone nagging you or worse yet, like an annoying commercial for the
local used car lot that gets played during every commercial break of the
Simpsons. I guess people who have TiVo don’t need to worry about that
sort of thing. I guess people who don’t watch TV have to worry about it
less- lucky you.

But the thing I’ve been hearing over and over lately has been of the Woody Woodpecker variety. Something that with each hearing adds more value, more layers of meaning, and importance- and that has been the Kingdom of God. I’ve been hearing more and more about the Kingdom of God for the past 6 years now, and it has never gotten boring- quite the opposite, it gets me more excited the more I hear about it.

With each teaching or conversation I have about the Kingdom, I leave with an even greater appreciation and passion for the Kingdom.

This week so far at the conference has been all about the Kingdom of God:
Joining in God’s Mission in redeeming all of creation to Himself. It
makes me feel giddy to even think about it- that we are all given the
privilege in actually participating with God in this adventure.

That’s what this week has been so far- learning about how we cooperate
with God in the advancement of His Kingdom in this world. From the
preaching of the cross in all its foolishness and weakness, to asking the
Holy Spirit to come and bring power to heal people, to learning about how God’s Kingdom is even about helping the poor receive adequate housing- add that to all the cool people we’ve been hanging out with, and this conference was definitely worth coming to.

I’m getting kind of rambly here, so I’m ready to go back to the room and
eat some prunes, drink some pepsi and go to bed.
Bob won a free donut coupon, so he gave it to me. Maybe I go eat that
tomorrow- I’ll try and think of you as I’m eating it- I’ll close my eyes
and imagine I’m back at church again… Like I said, I need to go to bed,
I think.


Day Three – But it’s a good kind of tired

When I was a college student and I would go on a retreat, it seemed that I always had some type of encounter with God. It was at a retreat where God first used me in some spiritual gifts…It was at a retreat where God first called me into full-time ministry, I totally wrote it off at that point, but it stuck with me. It was at a retreat where God told Liz she was going to marry me. (i really miss her…we are going to be married 15 years this fall…man I’m feeling old)

Coming to a conference like this is similar in some ways, you are getting together with friends to celebrate Jesus & eat food together. But there are some big differences too. At a college retreat, there are a few general themes…consider missions, or full-time ministry…Live a committed life, don’t sleep with your boyfriend (or girlfriend)….get serious about your walk with God. Once you leave college, life will change, so make a commitment now to follow God.

But at a conference like this, you are surrounded by people who when they heard those messages in college said, “Yes, Jesus. That is what I want to do. I give you my life to use as you see fit.” And yet as some people come to a conference like this, they are at a point where they are thinking, “i don’t know if I can do this anymore.” “This just hurts too much.”

A lot of these men and women pastor are in towns most of us have never heard of. Many of them entered into this excited about the mission God had for them…but now they wonder if they should keep going.

Now clearly this is not the majority…And I remember before Liz & I hooked up with the vineyard (did I mention that I missed her?) we were at that same point…wondering if we had anything left to give… I hope you’ll take a few minutes a pray for some of these pastors, that God would encourage them this week, & that when they get home, they would begin to see some amazing break-throughs in their churches!

I went to skyline chili or skylight chili or something like that…supposedly it is big in Ohio. For some reason they serve their chili on top off spaghetti. I have no idea why. so I opted for the low carb chili option…which it turns out is chili sauce & cheese on top of three small hot dogs. I don’t think we’ll get back there anytime soon.
(—hope i didn’t offend anyone from out here who love lowlight chili…i’m sure normally it is a great place:-)

I went to a workshop of journaling as a spiritual discipline this afternoon. I almost didn’t. I first went up to the room & there were a couple of older women. So me, being rather introverted and not wanting to draw attention to myself walked around for the next 10 minutes hoping at least a couple other guys would go into the room. by the time the work shop started, we were outnumbered by only about 40 – 5.

I have never done journaling, but I’m really been looking at my spiritual life lately and trying to add some new things to it….trying to jumpstart it a bit…I think this could be pretty cool.

Our church was mentioned during the conference tonight! They read off all of the churches that had been planted in the past two years, and the church that planted them. A woman named Cindy Nicholson was reading all of them off & when she got to “Bob & Debbie Morris at the Wellsboro Vineyard, planted by the Vineyard Church of Ithaca, NY” she mentioned something about us planting relatively soon after being planted ourselves…

(Now we just need to find our next church planter:-)

Okay, last thing today. The website for the conference is up on line. If you would like to read the daily newsletters, or hear any of the messages, you can go here.

Day Four – a divine cup of coffee (Edit)     General Church Forum     Apr 27, 2006

I like coffee. Actually, I don’t like coffee, I like good coffee.

Whenever I go to any National Vineyard Conference, people always say make comments about how great Starbucks is, & how do I get to the nearest Starbucks. And I feel so sorry for all of theses people who have never had a cup of gimme coffee!

Well, since they don’t have a gimme coffee here in Columbus, Ohio I have had to make due with Dunkin’ Doughnuts’ or Tim Hortons’ coffee. Not great, but it does the job.

Tonight James & I went out for dinner with a bunch of people from Upstate NY Vineyards. If you are ever in columbus & are looking for a burrito the size of a small child, this is the place to go. (too bad I don’t remember the name, but it is right near Krogers if that helps!)

Well after dinner, I was quite sated and feeling a bit sleepy. Since we were on our way to have some worship and hear one of my favorite speakers in the Vineyard movement, Rich Nathan, I knew a cup of coffee would be a help in getting through the rest of the night. As we left the Mexican restaurant , I looked across the parking lot & saw a Tim Hortons. Now, I had a choice, I could go head right back to the conference and only be a few minutes late, or go get a cup of coffee & be even more late.

So, as I ordered my large cup of Tim Horton’s coffee, my next thought was, I really need to go to the bathroom. I get my coffee, my change and put the change in my wallet. Before I left the counter, another worker came up to the cashier an asked, “is so & so’s dad a preacher?” Her co-worker said, “I don’t know…I don’t go to church at all.” As I stepped into the bathroom I heard the first woman say, “I really need to talk to a preacher.”

As we have gone through the book of Acts, I have been amazed at how Paul would walk into a city and start building a church. I am introverted & shy, but I really wish I could meet people like that.

Here I am in this bathroom of Tim Hortons, and I have another choice to make. Do I get to my meeting, or do I go out & let this woman know that God has already answered her?

I am amazed at how easy this was for me. I walked over to her & said, “I couldn’t help but over hear you. I’m a pastor and I would be glad to talk to you. Did you have any questions?”

“No, no questions, I’m just looking for a church.”

“Actually, I am from New York, but I am here for a conference at the Vineyard, and this is a great church. In fact they have a young adults service on Sunday night.”

Her next question is the one that really hit me. “Is it a place where people in mixed-relationships can go?” Think about what this woman wanted to know? Will they welcome? Or will I be rejected?

How many people around us in Ithaca are going around to their unchurched friends saying, where can I go to church? Is there a church in Ithaca that will let me come and love me?

I was so glad that I could tell her, yes, that Columbus Vineyard is a church where you would be welcomed & loved!

I hope that people feel free to say the same thing about the Vineyard in Ithaca.

I hope that this woman gets plugged in to the Vineyard & commits her life to Christ. It would be neat to be a part of that.

But on top of that, what I really hope this woman grasps is how much God loves her. The words “I need to talk to a preacher” are not even out mouth, and God places one right in front of her.

She will never know my name, or where I am from, but she’ll know God brought this guy in to her store for a cup of coffee & so that he could demonstrate to her how much he loves her.

I’m praying we can start having some of these encounters in Ithaca! Want to pray with me for that?

Day Five – the final entry from Columbus…i think

First an explanation of the picture on the right. that is part of the cafe at the columbus vineyard. Ever since we have talked about having a church building, i’ve said i want to have a building similar to Robert Purcell.

Something that when you walk in, it feels welcoming and warm, but also has a bit of a high-tech feel. The church here is i think a really good example of what I’m talking about…if you are ever in columbus on a saturday or sunday, check it out.

Thursday is the last full day of the conference. We’ll have a talk from Bert Waggoner tomorrow, celebrate communion together & then head back to Ithaca.

In 1999 I went to a Vineyard young leaders’ retreat in Port Angeles, WA. Back then I guess i was considered young… somewhere between then and 2005, i was no longer considered young…that is a pretty weird feeling. But at that conference i was picked up at the airport by the pastor for Yakima, WA. Other that meetings like this, or the National leadership meeting, I never see the guy…we don’t email, or chat on the phone. But whenever we see each other we spend sometime together catching up & even though we don’t know each other that well, there is this really cool sense of warm friendship. I mean in the strict sense of the word, he isn’t a friend..we don’t hang out, etc. But when ever I’m around him, there is this cool sense of some type of really deep connection. I think that is some kind of God thing that doesn’t really make a lot of sense. But when you experience it is pretty cool.

Darlene Chissom & Jen Chissom have been coming to the Vineyard since last Fall. And it still amazes me that people would drive from Bath, NY, To come to the Ithaca Vineyard…another one of those cool God things i guess.

Well, as you may or may not know Darlene’s daughter & Jen’s sister Tammie is coming to Buffalo, NY with her husband Steve to plant a Vineyard next year. Although Steve & Tammie weren’t able to get to the conference, I was able to have breakfast with their pastor (from Redding CA) & the pastor of the Vineyard in Niagara Falls.

The process of planting a church is, at least in my experience, the hardest thing i have ever done in my life. & over the first two years, i think i resigned at least once a week. (James & Liz had to put up with a lot of whining…but i’m much better now;-)

But having gone through it, it is one of the most fun & exciting things I have done. And so now, the privilege of being able to work along side of people who are just jumping into it so exciting.

Speaking of church planting, Bob Morris is down here with us too. And the Wellsboro Vineyard is holding their grand opening on May 15th.

The church there is doing really well. They have started holding their services in a Presbyterian church in town & the pastor of the church and his wife have come to every service because they enjoy it. In fact, they asked bob’s worship team to play at their worship gathering on Pentecost Sunday!

Please be praying for our trip home tomorrow.

Thanks for reading this, i hope it was at least a little interesting…i’ve enjoyed it!

see you sunday!



Photo by Daniel Diesenreither on Unsplash