Thursday, November 30, 2006

Quotes rumbling through my head about creation

It is not possible to love an unseen God while mistreating God's visible creation .
(John Woolman, Journal as quoted in Sept 2006 Christianity Today, page 112)

All creation is a song of praise to God.
(Hildegaard of Bingen)

Every natural object is a conductor of divinity
(John Muir)

Quotes from Dead Christian Leaders

It is a serious waste to let a day go by without allowing God to change us.
Richard Rolle

If you put up with yourself, why not put up with everyone else?
Guigo I

The best teachers are trouble and affliction. these alone give us understanding.
John Foxe

I have seen a fraction of God's glory, and it is awesome
Bernard of Clairveaux

Our bodies have one fault, the more we cater to them the more they want.
Teresa of Avila

Fire tests iron; temptation tests an honest person. Sometimes we dont't know what we can do until temptation shows us who we are.
Thomas a Kempis

Sin is the only empirically provable Christian doctrine
Reinhold Neibuhr

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Inconceivable!


Last weekend, while laid up in the house with a knee injury my friend Jen brought over some movies and we watched the movie "An Inconvienient Truth" featuring former Vice President Albert Gore Jr.

In spite of the surprising outakes from Futurama, it was a worthwhile movie to watch. It is especially valuable as a DVD because you can talk to each other and to Al (even though he is not listening) about what is being said. We both thought that Al's personal story was a rather lame insertion into the documentary and wish he would not have included it.


He makes the very clear argument that global warming is not in any way even debated in scientific circles, but rather it is assumed as a known fact. Statistically he shows how this bears out. For the most part I agree with him here, except that the scientific world can be elitist and often does not accept divergent opinions in its most elite magazines. What I found ironic is that after this they show him in some gas guzzling, high emisssions vehicle lecuring us about global warming. This seemed a little hypocritical to me.

The arguments about the melting of ice caps was also compelling as you watched ice melting into the ocean. Gore showed how glaciers kept time in years like trees, and how scientists can notice the significant difference in the health of the ice in Antartica after the Clean Air Act was passed.

I catalogued a few quotes here from the movie that I thought were good and well-researched.

Since the movie, I have been rethinking the relationship between the Christian faith and the environmental movement, and hope to share more in the next few days.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Its in my hands as we speak

Even though it pays very little, and they may have low standards to actually publish what I wrote, I am happy to share that I have been published by a curriculum group that does Christian youth curriculum based upon the messages in music.

One goal I wanted to reach by 30 I have now reached. At 33.

How well do you know me?

Leaderboard
Create your own friendquiz here

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Getting by with a little help from your friends

I read this article today, and found it fascinating. And as I read, I wonder if television and movies effect humans, especially young people in the same ways??? Maybe all the conservative hub-ub about the evils of media is not that far off to begin with?

Monday, November 20, 2006

Christmas List

This will be a continually updating post, and is for you my dear mother:

MUSIC
U218--released Nov 21
Anything by Nickel Creek
ACDC--Back In Black
Best of Frank Sinatra
Classic U2 Albums such as October, Rattle and Hum, Zooropa, and War
Brad Paisley--Time Well Wasted
Three Days Grace--One-X
Willie Nelson--Songbird
Johnny Cash--The Legend of Johnny Cash, American I, II, and III, and V,
Walk the Line Soundtrack
Best of Rolling Stones
Best of John Mellencamp
The New John Legend Album
Target CROONERS album


SUBSCRIPTIONS
Blockbuster (in-store)
AT&T or T-Moblile Wireless
Interpretation or NIV Application Commentary Series

TOYS
I-Pod
Atari Flashback
Console Cooler for the car

VIDEOS
McClintock (John Wayne)
Da Vinci Code
Second Season of LOST
Any year of Simpsons
Nacho Libre
The Third Miracle
The Passion of the Christ
Better Off Dead
Gospel Road (Johnny Cash's movie)


BOOKS
J-Pod by Douglas Coupland
The Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard
The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan

GIFT CERTIFICATES
Safeway
Firestone
Casual Male XL
King Size Male
Itunes
Best Buy
Target
Walmart
Albertsons
Starbucks
Subway
Applebees

Sunday, November 19, 2006

On the WONDER of a good day

Today was a good day. It was a day full of hard work, lots of activity, and a little be-frazzlement, but I am thankful for this day.

I was concerned that I was going to get blank stares in Sunday School. We actually had a pretty decent discussion, especially toward the end. Even if the kids did get a little hyper with frappachinos and donuts.

I was curious to see how worship would work out. I preached today, and organized the service in a non-traditional way. Over and over again I heard how the service "touched" someone or "spoke to" someone. "I loved what you said," shared one of my freshman girls, "but I also just loved the way the service was set up and flowed."

A more mature woman said, "I don't know if you noticed all the teary eyes around you," another said when she called me, "But today was beautiful! You reminded us of who we are, and the choice we made to follow Christ."

A man a few years older than myself came up to me and said, "I could really tell that you love us and care so much about us as you shared. And we are not the most easy church to love. You didn't preach at us, you talked with us. That meant a lot to me."

Another gruff old man hunted me down, with his eyes welling up and his hands shaking, "Thank you, I needed that," and quickly skirted out of the sanctuary.

It is always nice to feel competent and appreciated. But, when I feel I have been used to make a positive impact in people's lives, it fills me with wonder and awe. Mostly, because in those moments, I know it is not me. I post this because I need to remember these moments, so I won't give up on the fact that I can still be used to make a difference in other people's lives.

Our youth group event also went very well. I spent most of my effort for our service scavenger hunt running errands and organizing the event. As I heard the kids share what they did, I had to smile.

The boys had a hard time finding the homeless folks in their usual haunts, but eventually they were able to give away the meals they made nontheless. Including two sack lunches to a man who had not eaten all day.

The gals went to the nursing home to sing to one of our homebound members, and they shared that as they sang more and more people came along to sing the songs they were singing for Doris with them by heart. And the more they sang, the more the crowd grew. Then they went around with their "free hugs" signs through the building, and gave often ignored people in institutional care hugs. I had given them a maximum amount of free hugs they could get points for. They kept giving more and more hugs anyway.

And as both groups spoke, I was filled with wonder anew. Somehow in this silly service scavenger hunt, in very mundane ways that may not have even been noticed by them or their leaders, God showed up again.

It was truly a wonderous day. I share a lot in posts on this blog about the humor, frustrations, and aha moments that make up my life. At the risk of some of you thinking I am bragging, I also wanted to share the beauty and wonder of a good day.

God bless in this coming Thanksgiving Week.

Friday, November 17, 2006

FYI

My Bible Study blog is now active again

Everybody Has a Story: The Bible Text

Here is the text the following message was based on.

Everybody Has a Story--The Prequel

Everybody has a story, and several years ago journalist Steve Hartman set out to prove it. Sometime early in the week, he would grab a dart, go to the corkboard that had the map of the United States on it, face away from the map, and toss a dart backward over his head, and see where it landed. Wherever this dart landed, he went to the nearest town to that dart, no matter how large or small. Then he would flip open the phone book, and much like some of choose what Bible passage to read during our private time, he randomly pointed to a phone listing. Then he would interview these people, find out what their life was about, and do a 5 minute segment on that person’s story for the evening news on CBS.

One of the things that surprised me, and it probably shouldn’t have, was how biblical the stories that Hartman told felt. It seemed like with everyone he met, there were these life-changing moments that before which they were one person, and after which they were in a different point in their life. In other words, much like we are reading about with Paul today, they were stories about some sort of calling or conversion.

One such story that captivated my attention was the story of Gloria. Gloria’s story initially caught my attention as I was channel surfing because I was living in Montana and it mentioned a woman from a small town in Montana. As I began to learn more about the story, it intrigued me more because it was a woman from Ekalaka, Montana. Now Ekalaka is a small town, and the only reason I had heard about it was that my friend and 70-something junior high youth leader June was from Ekalaka. Ekalaka is a remote town of 395 souls and 10 times as many deer south of Glendive, MT. It is very close to the North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming borders. In other words, it was in the middle of nowhere. The nearest town of over 10,000 people is an hour away.

Gloria tells the story of being a young mother and sneaking over to the neighbors to get something while her child was taking a nap. She forgot she had left her oven on when she left and looked back and saw smoke billowing out of her house as it caught on fire. She made it in the house just in time to hear her son Phillip breathe his final breathe. She was devastated. Where would she turn? How could she deal with such tragedy? Eventually she turned to the only place she could turn. Feeling very guilty and ashamed she turned to God and begged for help and the ability to cope with her overwhelming grief.

Everyone has a story. Some are like Gloria’s. Others are like the Apostle Paul’s. You see, Paul’s story is really a story about a person who seems to do everything right. He went to the best school, and studied under the best teacher. He was on the fast track to success. He knew the most powerful people in all of Jerusalem. He had a job that allowed him to travel, and allowed him to be well known as someone that is a defender of the Hebrew faith. Since he was part-Gentile, he also had Greek citizenship which allowed him a lot of privileges as well. At the time we begin to get to know who the man then known as Saul, and later known as Paul is, we see that he is headed to Damascus to chase down Christians and capture or kill them. Military leader, pastor, and politician—Paul was a young leader with a lot of potential. Yet still, as Paul would later say in the book of Phillipians, and as Ecclesiastes reiterates, all of the success, money and power in the world can be at your fingertips, and it can still feel like something is missing or that your life is somehow incomplete.

I recently talked with a friend who has made a decision to follow Jesus in the last few years. He grew up in a Christian home with parents who were faithful churchgoing folk. He ran away from church. Then he came to the conclusion that he believed the story of Jesus as a good thing. It seemed true and made sense to him, but he kept his distance from this powerful and mysterious Jesus that he had heard about since he could remember.

He came to a point where the friendships and relationships that he had built his life upon seemed to crumble underneath him. And this Jesus that had haunted him and tenaciously loved him since he was young all of the sudden offered him hope when he needed it most. As he shared his story with me he said something that profoundly touched me and made me think. He said, “Most people I heard about who became Christians came to Jesus because they were afraid of what was going to happen when they died. I came to Jesus because I came to a point where I was afraid to live.”

Everybody has a story. We all come here with our own stories. Stories full of triumph and accomplishment. Stories of survival and hope. Stories full of doubt and despair. Stories of sheer boredom.

And, as we will see, when we truly and honestly meet Jesus, our lives have the strong possibility of being thrust in all sorts of new directions.

Everybody Has A Story--Tipping Point

I remember that evening. I was 12 years old. It was a hot night in Southern Oregon with no air conditioning, and I had just gotten home from the Sunday evening service at church. The pastor had just shown a movie called “A Thief In the Night”, which was an end times video. At the end of the service the Pastor Mark asked the congregation to look at our lives and discern if we had “accepted the gift”. And he described how silly it would be to have a whole bunch of presents under the tree, and to never claim them, to never open them, but to leave them sitting there. He went on to say that a lot of times that is what we do with Jesus. We hear his salvation is a good gift. And we are appreciative of all that God has done for us. But we never claim God’s gift for ourselves. We never claim his gift of new life for ourselves. And he went on to share that it is not enough to have religious activities, or think that Jesus’ teachings are good ideas, but that we need to surrender our lives to Christ and accept his good gift of new life.

So I went home and sat on my bed and pondered what had been said. I thought I had accepted Christ, but I could not remember a specific moment when I had done so. I had been infatuated with Jesus for as long as I can remember, and in the last year or so had been orienting my life as a middle school teen to follow him. And often the decision to follow Jesus had led to people not including me in things, or laughing when I wore my Christian t-shirts.

Well, I wrestled with God about where I was in my relationship with him, and came to the conclusion that it could not hurt to commit my life to Christ whether or not I had done it in the past or not. And I remember telling myself that if I made this decision, there would be no turning back. This was a life decision. So I had a little talk with God that night, and from that point on my life has been different. And there have been many things I have doubted since then, but I have also trusted that God loves me and wont abandon me or give up on me.

Malcolm Gladwell, who writes a lot of books about small things that have a big influence, wrote a book called Tipping Points. And the point of this book is that there are moments in time and markers that we cross that once we cross them everything is qualitatively different. He talks about everything from Sesame Street to cigarette smoking addiction to make his point. At one point things are one way, and then in a moment they are totally different.



Our lives have crossroads, or tipping points, before which everything is one way, and after which everything is different. To continue the metaphor of story, our lives have certain climactic points to which everything before seems to flow toward and everything else seems to flow out of.

One of my favorite authors is Douglas Coupland. And my favorite book of his is “Life After God”, which has a double meaning in the title. Because it talks about how my Generation is the first generation in North America where so many have chosen to raise their children with very little sense of God and the spiritual, and yet at the same time we have an innate sense deep within us that stirs us to move on a quest to discover God. Coupland’s protagonist comes to the crisis point at the end of his book when he says this.

Life was charmed but without politics or religion. it was the life of children of the children of the pioneers--life after God--a life of earthly salvation on the edge of heaven. Perhaps this is the finest thing to which we may aspire, the life of peace, the blurring between dream life and real life--and yet I find myself speaking these words with a sense of doubt. I think there was a trade-off somewhere along the line.
I think the price we paid for our golden life was an inability to fully believe in love; instead we gained an irony that scorched everything it touched. And I wonder if this irony is the price we paid for the loss of God.
But then I must remind myself we are living creatures--we have religious impulses--we must --and yet into what cracks do these impulses flow in a world without religion? It is something I think about every day. Sometimes I think it is the only thing I should be thinking about.
Some facts about me: I think I am a broken person. I seriously question the road my life has taken and I endlessly rehash the compromises I have made in my life. I have an unsecure and vaguely crappy job with an amoral corporation so that I don't have to worry about money. I put up with halfway relationships so as not to have to worry about loneliness. I have lost the ability to recapture the purer feelings of my younger years in exchange for a streamlined narrow-mindedness that I assumed would propel me to "the top." What a joke.
Compromise is said to be the way of the world and yet I find myself feeling sick trying to accept what it has done to me :the little yellow pills, the lost sleep. But I don't think this is anything new in the world.
This is not to say my life is bad. I know it isn't...but my life is not what I expected it might have been when I was younger. Maybe you yourself deal with this issue better than me. Maybe you have been lucky enough to never have inner voices question you about your own path--or maybe you answered the questioning and came out on the other side. I don't feel sorry for myself in any way. I am merely coming to grips with what I know the world is truly like.
Sometimes I want to go to sleep and merge with the foggy world of dreams and not return to this, our real world. Sometimes I look back on my life and am surprised at the lack of kind things I have done. Sometimes I just feel that there must be another road that can be walked--away from this became--either against my will or by default.
Now--here is my secret:
I tell it to you with the openness of heart that I doubt I shall ever achieve again, so I pray that you are in a quiet room as you hear these words. My secret is that I need God--that I am sick and can no longer make it alone. I need God to help me give, because I no longer seem to be capable of giving; to help me be kind, as I no longer seem capable of kindness; to help me love, as I seem beyond being able to love.

Saul seems to have one of these moments as he is on the road from Jerusalem to Damascus. He is with his posse seeking out Jewish Christians to drag back to Jerusalem in chains to be jailed or executed. Some translations say Paul was “breathing fire” against the believers. But then Paul has a fork in the road, tipping point kind of moment. While he is traveling he is encountered by a force that throws him to the ground, blinds him with a bright light, and speaks to him with a powerful voice. It is Jesus, and he tells Paul to change his ways, and to stop fighting what God is doing through his followers and join them.

Could Paul have run away? Of course he could! He could have chosen not to obey what God led him to do! And his life may have even been easier, more glamorous and more successful. But he didn’t. And all the things that had happened before in his life brought him to this one moment. A moment that he least expected. A moment where everything after would be defined by.

Have you had those moments? I hope you have. There are sometimes I look out on our congregation and wonder if there are some of us who have done the church thing all their lives, but never surrendered their lives to Christ, never had that moment (whether you have noticed the exact time of it or not) before which you were one person, and after which your life was qualitatively different. And when I think about that I worry that many of you have not had the joy of what it means to trust Jesus with your everything, and the peace and hope that brings to your days here on earth. And I worry that as the parable goes, when you stand before the judgment seat of Christ, he will say “Depart from me, I never knew you”.

And the truth is, for many of us, there is more than one moment in our lives that is like that. More than one time in our life where God somehow came into our lives, and changed the direction we were headed.


A few weeks ago, we discussed this as a small group in our CHOW Bible Study, and we heard about lots of moments like this. Mundane moments like really listening to a praise song that we were singing in worship and having the song touch one of our lives. Unforgettable moments like meeting the love of our lives. Humbling moments when we realized how lonely and sad we were. Scary moments in running from Jesus that made us run back to Jesus as fast as possible and commit our lives to him. Being a part of a community where we were taught follow Jesus with our lives. Aha moments where we suddenly all of the muddled things that we thought and believed came together. And times where we came into this congregation and felt surrounded by love and support at a time when we really needed it.

What are those moments in your life? When is the time you went from fighting God to having faith in Jesus? When is the time when you saw God make a way where there was no way in your life? When is the time when you felt God the closest to you in your life? What are those tipping points, those climaxes in your story?

Everybody Has a Story--What Now?

Everybody has a story. That is what Steve Hartman said as Gloria continued to tell her story. You will remember we talked earlier about the loss of her son, how that drove her to sadness and despair, and how that despair drove her to God. Gloria, the childhood friend of my buddy June, tried and tried to have another child. But to no avail. And she thought she would never have a second chance to be a mom.

Until one day, she came to the realization. A child is a precious gift no matter where it comes from. So Gloria chose to adopt Lisa. And she invested her life in caring for this child that was orphaned, that had nobody else to car for her and love her.

“I always knew I was loved” Lisa says as the story turns to her “Always….always..” Gloria now has 3 grandchildren and works part-time at the propane store to keep active.

Everybody has a story. Everyone has a history. Everyone has life defining moments, whether tragic or joyful, that lead them to a decision. And in the story of each person’s choices on faith, each choice has a direction in life that flows out of those choices.

The apostle Paul has a complete life change as a result of his experience with God on the road to Damascus. He chooses to preach Jesus. He chooses to live a life reaching out to Gentiles with the good news of Jesus’ love and forgiveness. He chooses to travel the world and be persecuted by others in the same way he used to persecute others. And he calls it the best decision he has ever made by the time he gets to Phillipians 3.

Gloria’s life was changed by grace as well. She chose to keep giving herself in love because she experienced the forgiveness of God that made her capable of doing so.

The friend that I told you about earlier is now helping to lead youth group on Sunday night, and faithfully attends CHOW every week. He is noticeably different. His countenance is different. His attitudes are peppered with a little more kindness and grace than before.

I think churches do well at accepting people who are spiritually seeking into their midst most of the time. I think we do well at times helping people identify and trust the “God-moments” in their lives. I think we struggle to believe that God can transform us, our neighbor, our fellow church member, our church, our community, and our world.

The truth is, God is in the growth business. He means to make us “new creation”. The Scripture says if anyone is in Christ---NEW CREATION—the old is gone, the new has come”

Why do we have so little faith?

Maybe the smallness of our faith limits the God-sized things God is wanting to do?

Ya think?

Look at your life. How has grown you? How has your life a “new creation” of God’s?

If you want to know if your life is been changed by God, look at the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 6.

Are you growing love? Are you becoming more kind? Are you finding you faith (or trust) in God in your day to day life growing within you? Are you patient? Are you allowing God to teach you self-control?

Maybe you see God at work. Maybe you wonder.

It could be because right now you are at the crossroads. It could be right now you are needing to envision a new future. Maybe you are needing God’s help to be a better mother or father, a better husband or wife, a better friend or neighbor, or simply a stronger person.

What now? Where are you at in the story? Do you need to bring the wisdom and love of God into the story of your life? Let this moment BE THE MOMENT. The moment where a change was made. Where everything is different. Where you can envision a new hope and a new future. Where you can see all that God has in store for you right ahead.

A really cool quote

If a man wishes to be sure of the road he walks on, he must close his eyes and walk in the dark--St. John of the Cross

Pretty much the best recording of the New Testament ever


I have been listening to the book of Acts with the Bible Experience and am amazed at the excellence of the Bible on CD that I am listening to.

Most Bible recordings of the Bible are a little bit cheesy. They have a few celebrity readers, but they tend to be overdramatized or just plain boring.

Neither is the case with the Bible Experience. The quality of readership and the production is unparelled in similar products. Listening to many of the best actors and artists of our time read the Bible is a sure treat.

Be sure to put this on your Christmas list if you have not already.

Some thoughts on discipleship--From THE GREAT OMISSION


I have been reading a little of this book today to help and keep me grounded in my very active and busy week. As I read through the first few chapters there were some fanstasic quotes. I would like to share a few with you:



"Disciples of Jesus are people who do not just profess certain views as their own but apply their gorwing understanding of life in the Kingdom of the Heavens to every aspect of their life here on earth. In contrast, the governing assumption among 'professing Christians' is that we can be 'Christians' forever and never become disciples." (xi)

"Most problems in contemporary churches can be explained by the fact that members have never decided to follow Christ." (5)

The disciple is one who, intent on becoming Christ-like and so dwelling in his 'faith and practice' systematically and progressively rearranges his affairs to that end.(7)

"Concerned to enter that radiant life we each must ask, 'Am I a disciple or only a Christian by current standards?'" (11)

"there is absolutely nothing in what Jesus himself or his early followers taught that suggests you can just decide to enjoy forgiveness at Jesus's expense and have nothing more to do with Him." (13)

"Can we seriously imagine that Jesus were Lord if he were not smart?" (19)

Friday, November 10, 2006

Blog World Tour Part 1

I made an intentional effort to get some face to face time with blog buddies while I was in SOCAL. This was a little difficult because I had a 100 fever when I came home to my sisters place on Tuesday, and was achy and fluish the whole week. But those of you who know me know I dont let constant sweats and chills, a fever, a cough and a runny nose keep me from doing the things I want or need to do. Wait a sec...maybe that is a problem....anyway....

I met Stephen and Colleen and went over to their house tuesday night. They were very sweet and gracious hosts, and Coleen is a wonderful cook. It took a while to get started on the conversation, but eventually we got to know each other and even get a little good natured banter going. Stephen is a good man with a good heart, and we have a lot of similarities in our ministry journeys and the hurts we have experienced. Coleen is a girly-girl with a salty, down to earth, Oregonian attitude.

I thought it would be a little awkward meeting someone I had just known online. And it was at first. It felt like a blind date at first. This bothered me because of this little thing called homophobia that I deal with. I have grown to the place where I can love homosexual people, advocate for them to have equal rights under the law, and even hug homosexual men without feeling weird. But my homophobia still is alive and strong when I think I feel gay or may be percieved in any way gay-ish. And meeting someone online feels gay-ish at first. But meeting folks you have interacted with in blogland is healthy because it keeps helps move you from the artificial world of computers into a face to face friendship as well.

I had coffee with Mike Devries on Wednesday. He is a fun person and we chatted for well over an hour about a number of things. Because I dont really have a way to connect with a lot of ministers around my age that are anywhere close to my point of view here, it was really affirming to find someone in ministry at a similar place in his journey. He also had a lot of interesting stories and insights on minor Christian celebrities (as Mike Pilavaci refers to them), which was fun as well.

Then on Wednesday night I had dinner with David Cho. He took me out to eat at Olemendi's on Capo Beach, and we had some good discussions on faith and church and life.

More thoughts on what happened at New Life

from Zach Lind about Mark Driscoll's thoughts on how he believes that pastor's wives' lack of sexual availabilty causes their husbands to stray. This really made me angry. Especially since Driscoll is such an influential leader in so many people's spiritual lives in the Seattle area (and now tied in with John Piper as well)

from Non-Prophet. This is a buddhist-leaning agnostic guy I know that shares his view on the whole megachurch world after visiting new life last Sunday to hear the announcement and letter from Haggard that was read. He is easily the most influential blogger in the state of Colorado, and was even mentioned on CNN last weekend when this story broke. I don't swallow the whole of what he says here, but most of what he says I deeply resonate with. Pay attention to the last paragraph of two sentences. Do you agree with him?

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Dynamic Leadership

I have been doing a lot of thinking about the nature of church leadership and leadership systems in church, and how leadership structures create certain dynamics in churches that facilitate certain positive and negative things. This is especially on my mind in light of the whole mess happening with Rev. Haggard.

First of all, despite what others say in comments below, I do feel badly for Rev. Haggard. I did not to start with. But when I read his heart wrenching confession I felt badly for him. And I wondered why he didn't do more leadership from this place of openness and vulnerabilty to start with.

But I also think about this from some sort of a systems perspective. Our church had a pastor in its history that violated similar boundaries (committing adultery with members of the congregation), and I think there are some things about our church culture that allowed this to happen. And in our specific case, I think we are still trying to stick our heads in the ground and pretend it is not happening. Individual pastors are solely responsible for their own personal decisions, but sometimes structures in churches enable bad behavior. I think, as an outside observer, this may have been possible at New Life.

First of all, I am not sure the megachurch is such a safe place for leaders' souls. I have had conversations with several people who have worked in the megachurch world, and it is a very lonely, high-pressure place to be. And, it can be a place where it might be very easy to think of oneself more highly than one ought to. Heck, that can be easy to do when you are an utter failure in ministry (like me), much less a rock star of evangelical christianity like Ted Haggard was.

Having done a little time in a church that was transitioning to a charasmatic/pentecostal leadership model, it is also very easy to be seduced by the cult of leadership in that context. Most successful churches in that model have charasmatic (different use of the word) leaders that tend to develop personality cults. The church I worked for before I moved to Colorado Springs was also entertaining a change in by-laws to give the pastor more control as head of the congregation. It seems that in these circles, a grasp for control and power by those at the top somehow ties into their theology. I think this is especially true in hypercharasmatic churches where the pastoral leadership is viewed as having the gift of prophecy. This also means if they put faith in a prophetic leader, that they tend to not restrain their succesful leader (who is a direct mouthpiece of God) with much accountability.

Also less obvious in this paradigm is the close relationship between the spiritual rhythyms of charasmatic spirituality and the biological rhythyms of human sexuality. In other words, the pentecostal experience mimicks the sexual experience in some very seductive ways. Worship begins with a little small talk and conversation to get one another comfortable, then jumps into the foreplay of the first set of praise songs, the worship builds and builds in its expression and forcefulness, people close their eyes move their bodies to press themselves closer and closer to the Spirit, and finally the congregation erupts in an ejaculation of pleasure as the Spirit is manifest among them. Now, admitedly, often New Life was more low key than many pentecostals in this regard, but the same spiritual rhythm was evident when I visited.

Also, I seriously suspect that he worked more than 40 hours a week. I would not be surprised if he worked twice that much. And, when you become a workaholic, sin becomes even more seductive. It becomes easy to think that because you have given so much, you should cut yourself some slack. Which in my case meant a 3-5 year binge on fast food and oven bake pizzas, but for someone else may mean substance abuse or sexual immorality.

So now what we have to deal with is a pride-enducing place that treats you like you are God's transcriptionist and gives you no accountability. Of course, with Haggard he planted this church. As a leader it was his creation. But becoming a pastor who is also chasing drug pedalling man whores does not happen in a vacuum. It is something that is very sad for Ted and New Life, but in many ways it is also a parable to teach those of us in the church that our paradigm for ministry success and what constitutes a "good" church leader may need to change. And we may need to focus as pastors more on our spiritual health than the attendance in worship on Sunday morning. Our souls may depend on it.

Summary of all of my workshops and worship learnings

Speakers:

Kenda Creasy Dean--
I think she had a good message, but it did not really come together the way her writing does and the way workshops I have went to in the past. It almost seemed like she was doing a workshop in a general session, with lots of "talk amongst yourselves" moments. But I hate those when they do the ra-ra at the beginning of YS gatherings, which is why I chose to leave the auditorium, visit the restroom, and get a pop during that time. Most of what I got out what Kenda was saying was to be a teachable person with your youth, and realize that they hear and know things about God that we are not listening to, and vise versa.

Efrem Smith--Gave a very inspirational message. It was a lot about grounding one's ministry in a strong relationship with God

Matthew Barnett--Did not go.

Mike Pilavaci-- The best message of the convention.

Shane Claiborne--Very inspirational message about his exeperiences of God showing up when we take risks to follow and serve God.
Phillip Yancey--Excellent message on prayer.

Marko (prez of YS)--Talked about the necessity of humility in ministry, while often admitting that he was humility challenged.

Workshops:

Tony Jones's Research Seminar--
An interesting report on a key multidisciplinary study on teenagers, and how what they reported effects the church and gives us open doors for humble partnerships with schools.

The thought that keeps coming back to me is the nature of thrill-seeking in adolescence, and how that relates to changes in brain chemistry and development. According to this research, much of the extreme thrillseeking stuff is tied to how motion and activity that used to stimulate in childhood fails to stimulate in adolescence. This was interesting because I had a friend working on a degree that did a study on adolescent boys, and almost all of them as teenagers said they grieved not being a child and a boy anymore. Hmmm.

Dan Kimball's talk on world religions--
There was not much new to me here. Most instructive was his process, as opposed to the apologetics end of things.

Helping Hurting Kids--
I looked at this as an opportunity to brush up my skills and information on issues, and maybe learn a few new things. With that attitude I was not disappointed, and I have copious notes. Most interesting to me was the stuff about cutting, and its comparisons to suicidal ideation. Many view cutting as a precursor to suicide. In my experience it sometimes has been. However, for most youth cutting is about living and coping with life, not about dying.

The discussion of this reminded me of a sociological study on race and violence and how different racial groups tended to process anger and subsequent violence differently. More about that at a later date.

Mark Matlock Seminars--

I ended up in two Mark Matlock seminars on Sunday. He offers a lot of good stuff. He is definitely conservative in his theology, but not offensively so.

The first workshop was about helping students grow in wisdom. It was very good. Especially his stuff about how he understood the relation between HOW PEOPLE CHANGE by HOWARD GARDNER (cognitive psychologist back east somewhere that did the MULTIPLE INTELLIGENCES work that was the rage a few years ago) and discipling students.

The second seminar was about interacting with culture, which had some good ideas, but kinda betrayed he had not been spending a lot of time with teens one on one of late.

Experiencial Worship with Lily Lewin--
I ended up here cause I didnt like the first two seminars I attended. Her stuff was good, especially helpful in how we develop a creative process for creative worship.

Theology with Tony Jones

I went to a late night workshop that had Tony Jones leading, as well as a seminar he led yesterday. The workshops have got me thinking about two things:

1. What are the pastoral implications of one's eschatology, especially as it relates to youth ministry?
2. What is the relationship between prayer and obeidience?

1. In his seminar Tony said he thought the world continued to get better and better. This was interesting, but not surprising. Interesting because I think the postmodern shift debunks the progress myth of the enlightenment, and thought he did to. Not surprising because the neo-liberal theology of the kingdom is very postmillenial in its orientation (Martin Luther King Jr and Jurgen Moltmann for example), and Princeton folks tend to fall more along that line in general because of their historic ties with classically liberal theology. (How is that for putting someone in a box.

But it got me to thinking about how one's view of end times effects how one ministers.

Premillineal--means (according to my take on it) that the world is getting worse and worse. This world view is dominant in more fundamental circles, and causes those christians to draw circles and create boundaries. It sees the world as temporal and the enemy. To me this breeds non-hope and is not congruent with the rest of the gospel. It does however have the positive function of encouraging believers to share their faith urgently.

Postmillenial means that the world is getting better and better. This is Tony's view. In this, we are moving and growing toward the world having more and more of the kingdom of God in it the further we go along in time.
It challenges many ministers to be more socially involved on the positive end. It tends to lend itself to sycretism and tends to gloss over the idea of God's judgement.

Amillenial means well....that you dont really buy either of those scenarios. My view of how God works in time comes from Ecclesiastes...."there is nothing new under the sun". Hebrew thought talks a lot about how time moves in cycles, and I believe in cycles. Like many premillialists, I believe that Christ could come back at any moment bringing the new heaven and the new earth. Like many postmillinealists, I believe we are called to push the church to move into the world to make the world better, and that progress and hope are possible.

I better stop, all this talk makes me want to go back to school.

2. A few years ago, I read a book by Stanley Grenz called "A Cry for the Kingdom". In it he believes that is the definition of intercessory prayer...a cry for the kingdom. As this came to mind in the late night theology seminar, I began to wonder more and more about the relationship between prayer and obiedience. As I thought, I began to see a giant feed back loop. Many of us start praying because Jesus tells us to. So we obey by praying. God listens to our prayer. And God oftens answers our prayer by calling us to get involved in the kingdom work of being part of the answer to those prayers. That obiedience brings our lives in line with God's kingdom work and our prayers with challenges us to pray more. This grows and grows which leads us to pray more, and move more into God's work in the world and the cycle continues. I am not sure this makes sense, but I use this blog to process so.....

Saturday, November 04, 2006

A Beautiful Day in So Cal

Times they are a changin'--some thoughts on the professional world of youth ministry

At the Youth Specialties Convention, it has been very interesting to see both the differences in me as a participant in the convention and in the nature of this convention and youth ministry itself.

Changes in me

I experience this convention much differently as a 33 year old man with around 10 years of youth ministry experience than I did earlier in my youth ministry career. For instance, when I first came to the convention about 7 years ago, I was about the average aged person at these convention. These days, I look around and wonder if many of the folks that are here should still be in high school.

Also, I find myself coming to these events with a more skeptical attitude than when I was younger. I ask, which one of these folks are just pitching their products? I am definitely more aware of when I am being pitched by someone. Which of these folks have I heard everything they have had to say before? There are some people who do a few things well, but dont do a lot of things different.

Sadly, it is also hard to get as much out of what I am doing than in years past. I used to be able to get a lot out of everything. Now, many times, I feel like I am as knowlegable of those who are presenting on a lot of issues, and if not, I at least can quickly predict where they are going with things.

On a more positive bent, the contemplative stream within the convention has grown tremendously in both quantity and quality, which is from my perspective a very good thing. And as you can see, I have taken advantage of this. This may have ruined a lot of other parts of the convention for me.

Changes in the Convention

It seems to me like with 3 conventions things have been scaled back a little bit. This is just something I have been thinking about...a vibe I have been getting. At the exhibit hall, the giveaways are not as plentyful. The talent is not necessarily of lesser quality, but they there are less prominent acts than in years past. And, maybe because I am getting older, I have connected less with some of them (i.e. Family Force 5) The general session giveaways are also a little less exciting so far (of course this will change if I have a new Bible and WOW CD by the time I leave).

(We just got the WOW DVD Saturday night--one per church group)

Changes in the ethos of the Convention

When I was starting out, there were a bunch of things that seemed somewhat new that were happening. Mark Driscoll and Chris Seay were leading the Postmodern Youth Ministry workshops before "Emergent" started or the Emergent lines of books. At the same convention, the Godbearing Life had just been released by Kenda Creasy Dean, and the YMSP with Mark Yaconelli was just getting started.

Now it seems like youth ministry seems to be searching for the next big thing. I am anxious to hear about "Presence Centered Youth Ministry" and how that relates to this concern.

It is also easy to sense much like in the rest of the country, different factions within the Convention family are more clearly drawing lines. This was especially evident in Tony Jones' workshop, where he clearly and at several times defined "camps". This was helpful in Tony's case because he was very clear from the start about where he came from. But it was also just one example to point to the bigger picture that the ethos of the Youth Specialties convention seems to me to be very splintered. And, I think this is in part because of the loss of Mike Yaconelli, who was able to bring everything together and unify things.

Changes in the Youth Ministry World

The youth ministry world is becoming more flooded with resources and diversified in their presentation. Doug Fields seems to have moved much of what he does with Group Publishing (maybe in part because YS seems to have moved to the left a little theologically??). This is a good thing because I think Group resources with youth have really been struggling of late, and I think this will give them a good infusion of good resources and energy, as well as making Simply Youth Ministry more accessible.

In the publication world, Youthworker Journal has moved from under the YS umbrella. Which has diverified the offerings for publication media in the youth ministry world. And, with the cover article of the new YS journal being a contemplation by Bart Campolo of universalism, it seems that the new publication of YS has also moved closer to the mainline and emergent, and in a more theologically progressive (or less conservative--although I am trying to avoid the traditional labels because there are times I fall in either camp) direction.

All in all, the convention is very helpful, but seems to have lost a little bit of momentum. But I could be wrong about all of this.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Youth Specialties Critical Concerns Course: Becoming the Beloved--Lesson 1

This morning I took the first half of my critical concerns class preceding the convention. The "class" is actually designed like a spiritual retreat. So, we practiced several contemplative prayer exercises, debriefed them, and did a lot of listening to Mark Yaconelli. Mark is a very wise, spiritual man.

I have several lessons from this time, which I will flesh out more in future weeks, but here I will briefly share some of the things I took from the experience. Here are the things I learned about myself and what I do.

  • I need to move from blaming to being. In our first exercise, we were commanded to go off by ourselves and repeat the prayer "Into your hands I commend my spirit" (from Christ while he was on the cross.) And as I was committing my spirit to Christ, I came to realize how much of my internal dialogue is truly blaming myself, and taking upon myself the accusations of others. Which can leave me defensive, and susceptible to blaming others for my unhappiness or not feeling like I am measuring up to the standards of others. In this process I remembered that Satan is called the "accuser" in Scripture. That he often saddles us with blame, and when I fill up with blame I am too full of hurt and frustration to be open to blessing.
  • When I stay in the blame game, I tend to look at God as a user and a taker instead of a lover and a blesser. My spiritual life becomes very dry when I see God as a user and a taker, but I often go there. And I need to grow past that. And move past obligation to choice for things in my heart and mind.

In the second exercise, we were given some prompts to listen to God through the Scripture, and then take some very pointed questions and move into a silent place and listen for the answers. Then, we were invited to journal our responses to the questions or the answers we heard. One of the questions was, "In what ways is God inviting you to trust?" Here was what I wrote:

I need to believe that God is not finished with me. I need to trust that
God's best is not behind me, and that he has not abandoned me. I need to trust
that where I am is also a part of the quest and part of the journey. It is also
part of the call. That I am not where I am at this point in my ministry because
of some fatal flaw or irreversible failure, but I am where I am because that is
where God has placed me. Sometimes God places us in gardens and sometimes God places us in deserts. Right now I am in a desert. And it takes courage to go
into the desert, and to be faithful to the call when the harvest is sparse and
it is hard to see what is going. But having that courage at this time is part of
the call, part of the journey, and I can trust God to not only see me through to
the other side, but see me to the other side stronger and better equipped for
the next challenge.

Becoming the Beloved--Part 2--TAKE HEART

Our third prayer exercise was a practice of Lectio Divina. As I listened to our text, the word that God had for me there was "take heart." I was wondering what God was trying to teach me or say to me through this word. I kept writing sentences or phrases that were impressions. It is evolving into a poem. Here is the poem:

Take heart
The storm is not the end of the story
You are not abandoned

Take heart
Have courage
to believe in abundance and not scarcity
to believe that you will be blessed

Take heart
My expectations for you are different
different from your friends and family
different from the world

Take heart
dont just believe in the answers
believe I am the answer

Take heart
You are almost
where I want you to be
be renewed

Take heart
I know the plans I have
for you
to prosper you
and not to harm you
to give you a hope
and a future

Take heart
Be strong
and courageous
Dont be afraid
to enter into the
land
of milk and
honey

Take heart
You must be in
the world
but I have
overcome
the world

Take heart
take my body
broken for you
take my blood
shed for you
the new covenant
in my broken body
and in my shed blood
now given for you

Take heart

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Becoming the Beloved Part 3

The last 3 hours of the workshop were a little bit less fruitful for me than the day before, but were good nonetheless.

To be honest, the next morning was simply more difficult for me. We had a picture drawing prayer exercise that we had to share with others. And that in itself was not hard, but then I started thinking about some things that had been going on recently and I found myself getting distracted. After that, for the first time, we were directed that everyone would share in small groups. I didnt want to talk or share. I didnt want to interact with people to be honest with you.

As we finished up we also did this similuation of the Scripture imaginitively. This moved many people, but by the time I got done with the event I was just emotionally spent.
As I am sitting here, I am grieved for my community amidst the allegations of Ted Haggard at New Life Church in Colorado Springs. As he resigns from his position from NAE and takes administrative leave from New Life Church, a few things come to mind. First, even though I disagree with some of what Ted stands for in ministry, I grieve with New Life Church as this difficult things has come about.

I sincerely hope that the bulk of accusations are false, but after reading a copy of this letter that was sent out to the congregation, I think what we are hearing is only the beginning.

What a sad thing for Colorado Springs, New Life, and the many people that support Ted and trust him as their leader. I pray that God brings a quick resolution to this mess.


Since I have been on my vacation/study leave I have tried to be frugal and be a good steward of what I have been given. However, I have also spoiled myself a little bit as well. Each day, mostly in the late morning, I have gotten a little bit of liquid gold with my peppermint mocha as I stop by Starbucks. A little way to spoil myself.

I am here at the convention with Steve, a guy that is part of my youth team. He has made jokes about spending all of his time at Starbucks. This is because Dan Tygret met his wife at a Starbucks in a hotel lobby in St. Louis at the first youth leader convention I went to as the Associate Pastor of First Baptist Church of Colorado Springs.

I plan on continuing visiting Starbucks each day for the convention. Just to spoil myself a little for my time off.