Sunday, December 31, 2006

A Battle

As I continued to look into the Scripture, I noticed that angels’ wings were fluttering all around the first few chapters of Matthew and all through the narratives of the conception and early childhood of Jesus. And I wondered what this might have to add to the truth that I discovered about Jesus being declared as our deliverer from the very start.

The root word for Angel is messenger. Angels are simply messengers of God if you go simply by their name. And this truth is both helpful, and somewhat deceiving if you just stop there.

One of the books I utterly hated when I went to a Christian college was a series of novels with all sorts of angels and demons called THIS PRESENT DARKNESS. From the moment it came out, everyone seemed to be seeing angels and demons in everything. If something went bad in their life, it was because of demons. If they narrowly avoided car accidents, it was because a host of angels protected the vehicle. I remember a friend invoking angelic protection as we were about to drive from Sterling, KS to Lawrence in a small hatchback in the middle of a blizzard. I kept wondering why God did not advance the angels ahead of time to give him a vision to get snow tires for the death trap we called his vehicle. Providentially, we made our journey safely.

There is a lot of angelology and demonology that is based on extra-biblical philosophy and experience. But much of these stories reflected a truth I often ignore, and that I rediscovered in preparing for this sermon.

You see I did a little study on angels through the Bible and biblical history. And one thing you notice right away about the angels in scripture is that they are always in the middle of a cosmic battle. Read Daniel and Revelation. Look at what is implied in the passage on spiritual warfare in what Paul said to the Ephesian church.

As we look at this passage, we see right away that there is a power struggle happening. From the beginning, Jesus is under attack. From the beginning, Jesus is in the middle of a battle.

This should not have surprised me, because deliverers often are engaged in a great struggle or battle in order to deliver those in bondage. But it was a surprise nonetheless.

As a young Christian, I used to think that when I became more mature and knowlegable in my faith, that somehow following Jesus would become easier. That it would go from being a daily battle to second nature.

I have since come to agree with renowned Christian leaders like CS Lewis and Thomas a Kempis who say the opposite. The more I grow in my faith, the more it is a battle to continue to strive to be faithful. With increase in faith, I also find increase in temptation. The more I seem to press forward in my journey of faith, the more acute the attacks of the enemy seem to be at the same time. And the more attractive running away from everything I have built my life on seems to be. Because even though I am called into the battle of faith, a lot of times it seems easier to be a coward.

One of my favorite modern Christian leaders, Eugene Peterson, puts it this way. He says that there is no place in the universe that is not contested ground. Each and every moment is a battle. Each and every decision has not only personal but cosmic importance.

At the risk of being overly direct and transparent, or sounding weak or complaining, I feel compelled to share something with you. My experience in ministry has felt like a battle. There is not a year that I have not struggled with the fear that all of my efforts have not made a bit of difference. There has not been a year in over 11 years of ministry where I have not been ambushed by an unexpected attack. I have been lied about and lied to. I have been picked at and picked apart. I have been criticized about everything from my svelt physical appearance and my choice of footwear to how peppy or somber I am to the fact that I am not married. And everything in between. Sometimes these difficult experiences that feel like attacks are used by God’s grace to allow him to work victory in my life and my ministry. Other times they can be classified as nothing more than spiritual attack in my mind. Either way, I guess I see part of being called to ministry and to follow Jesus is a call to be a good soldier in the spiritual battlefield I am assigned to.

It’s interesting. In continuing in the struggle, at least in my ministry and spiritual journey, I have over and over seen the grace of reconciliation and forgiveness at work. Through persisting in love and hope I have seen students who were dead set on doing everything they could to see me fired by my church (and some have made valiant efforts) become friends, supportive youth leaders as they got older. In fact, one such student now meets with a mutual friend and prays for me and my family specifically on a weekly basis. The same has happened with parents, church leaders, peers in ministry, and even leaders in the community. And this is no surprise to us. The thing is, I don’t get deserve any credit for this. My deliverer does. Because his invasion into this world is about this kind of thing. This is because even though Christ comes as our deliverer, and joins into spiritual battle along side us to deliver us, he is a different kind of leader than the leaders of this world. And he fights a different kind of battle than we expect.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

A Different Kind of King

Which brings me to the final thing I noticed as I began to study this passage. There is a contrast between the kingdom of Herod and the kingdom of this world and the kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of Jesus. There are two kings in this passage…with different claims to authority, different agendas, striving for different kinds of influence.

The Hebrew people expect a military leader that will help them overthrow the world’s powers by force. They get a deliverer who is a suffering servant that delivers the world through entering its suffering in Bethlehem and taking the world’s sin upon himself at the cross on Calvary.

Herod is the kind of king that attempts to overcome his enemies through violence and force. Jesus delivers the world through love and compassion.

Herod is now dead. His palace is in ruins. His kingdom has long faded away. And if it had not been for his relationship to Jesus, nobody would have remembered him.

Jesus is risen from the dead and reigns at the right hand of God. His kingdom continues to grow. People today still worship him, and await the fullness of his deliverance.

Loyalists of the kingdom of Herod inherit the fate of Herod.

Followers of Jesus have an eternal inheritance to look forward to. And they begin to help bring it about even now as they join Jesus’ revolution of justice, love, and compassion—even for our enemies. In being delivered, we get to become a heralds of the good news of our continuing and impending deliverance to others.

Herod rules by staying above the fray and collecting more and more money and political control through fear and moral compromise.

Jesus enters into the sin and suffering of this world, befriending the moral compromisers he hopes to lead, in order to deliver them to a life of hope and complete transformation.

The picture we have of the church, the one full of perfect people who have things all figured out and have everything in their lives all together, that church does not exist and it never has. That is not the kind of church that we see in the Bible. The church we see in the Bible is a church full sinful people who have made total messes of their lives who discover a community that is about proclaiming a deliverer and embodying the love of a King who seeks to deliver us.

The people of God that Jesus comes to deliver are sinners all. Sinners who fall on their knees and cry out for deliverance to the one who is coming out of Egypt to rescue them from their pain and heartache, their oppression and affliction. Even more than they cry out to be delivered from their self-righteous, self-justifying selves and march into a kingdom of humility and love.

May God find me in that number. May God find you in that number, May God find us in that number together. Amen.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Money Waters

is a guy I played college football with. His name when I knew him was Ian "Money" Johnson. Not sure I would call him a buddy. He was mad at me for writing him up for dormitory rules infractions our junior year, which led to a one game suspension from the football team (walking the halls on a dry campus with a bottle of malt liquor). But we seemed to get along well about the time of graduation from Sterling College. Now he is an independant rapper in Texas with an apparently bright future in rap. When "Money" was in college he was our star wide reciever.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Me and God

That is the title of a fairly recent release by Josh Turner. The lyrics of the song can be found here. The thing is, there is something that disturbs me about this song. Do I disagree with it? Not necessarily. But the chumminess of which he speaks of the divine somehow disturbs me. I couldn't figure out why until I thought about it a bit.

What bothers me is in the title. Its "Me and God". Its too self-centered. God is my buddy. He's got my back, so don't mess with me. This sentiment is so wrongheaded. Yet, whether it is American Christianity, American Buddhism, the New Age movement, or whatever is around me, it seems to echo the same religious sentiment. "Me and God".

The strange thing is that Jesus brought in "love your neighbor as yourself" into that whole "me and God" equation. The "me and God" equation is all about God using me to love others on his behalf. We are not partners. God is God and I am not. I am God's servant and his vessel.

And it is not just about me. It is about the world I love in that is in need. The person who needs someone to listen to. Yet, much of pop spirituality is tied up in this me and God motif. And for some reason it rubs me the wrong way.

I made the evening news

The other night I got a call from Scott Harrison of Channel 13 in Colorado Springs. He asked me to comment on the new Left Behind game.I said a lot of things that I thought were really smart, but the clips made me look a little like a dumb ox. You can link to a transcript of the report here.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Current Reading: Welcoming But Not Affirming

I just finished reading "Welcoming But Not Affirming: An Evangelical Response to Homosexuality". It is a comprehensive book that states this position well. It is written by the deceased Stanley Grenz, who was a prolific writer and theologian.

Perhaps most interesting in his thesis was the relationship throughout human history between faith viewpoints and the related sexual behavior to that faith viewpoint. His position is that one's views and behavior sexually in some strange way almost always integrated to one's spirituality/relationship with God. In the process, he shows historical basis for "ritual enactment" across cultures, and then points out Scriptures to show that one's sexual behavior is intimately tied to one's worship life. This kind of creeps me out, but it also seems to have a lot of truth to it.

Overall, it was helpful in giving me some perspective about related community issues and struggles our church is having.

Brainwashed--a humorous story with a point by NT Wright which appears in the John for Everyone commentary

A story from NT Wright:

A friend of mine described the reaction when he went home, as a young teenager, and announced to his mother that he'd become a Christian.Alarmed, she thought he'd joined some kind of cult.'They've brainwashed you!' she said.He was ready with the right answer.'If you'd have seen what was in my brain,' he replied, 'you'd have realized it needed washing!'Of course, he hadn't been brainwashed. In fact, again and again - and this was certainly the case with my friend - when people bring their lives , their outer lives and inner lives, into the light of Jesus the Messiah, things begin to become clear.If anything, it is the surrounding culture that brainwashes us, persuading us in a thousand subtle ways that this present world is the only one there is. This is seldom argued. Rather, a mood is created in which it is easier to go with the flow. That's what happens in brainwashing. What the gospel does is to administer a sharp jolt, to shine a bright light, to kick-start the brain, and the moral sensibility, into working properly for the first time.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Something is in the water

ht to Non-Prophet

It seems that there are a lot of people who are coming out in the open about their lifestyles these days.

First, there was the announcement from Emmanuel Missionary Baptist Church's Senior Pastor about his choice to step down because of his sexual orientation. Dr. Reynolds was a leading advocate for civil rights in Colorado Springs, and his church is dually aligned with National Baptists and American Baptists (my denomination).

Then, Ted Haggard and New Life made national news with the same issue.

Now another megachurch in South Denver has had its senior pastor forced to resign for the same reason. Wow.

Whose next?

Monday, December 11, 2006

Special Links to Read

For some helpful writing advice
Passing on the passive voice (ht Ivan Wolfe)

Kindergarten Romeo (ht Brotha Buck)

Sarah's Christmas Wish (ht Ruby Rocks)

Elf Yourself (ht Marko)

The Best New Christmas Present You Could Buy for your child (ht John)

Blue Christmas

I was listening to Christmas music and noticed how much several songs of Christmas are different than I expected. Of course,there are a lot of Christmas songs that are all about frolicking in the snow, or falling in love while getting close to someone on a winter's night. To my surprise there are also a number of songs that have a more somber mood. Even more surprising, almost all of the more somber songs are more directly related to the spiritual side of Christmas.

I am no musical expert, but have you noticed how many songs of the season have minor chord arrangements? I do not think O Come, O Come Emmanuel can be sung well as a joyous and celebrative piece. It is meant to be a song that is somber and full of heartfelt longing for redemption and new life. I have also come to love "Mary, Did You Know?", which is a song that makes one think both of the hope to come and the suffering that must be endured to get to that point. Sting sings what appears to be a classic lesser known hymn called "Gabriel's Message" which is a hauntingly beautiful meditation on Gabriel's telling Mary she was going to have a child that was going to die to save the world. Ever listen to "Down in Yon Forest" sung by Bruce Cockburn? That is downright creepy, bloody story of the Holy Grail and Christmas. Speaking of Bruce Cockburn, I have also enjoyed Mary Had A Baby. This song has a more celebrative tone, but the message is a Negro Spiritual communicating that the Underground Railroad has "left the station" to head north.

Also, have you noticed how many Christmas songs are filled with questions and mystery? Do you hear what I hear? Mary Did You Know? What Child Is This? These are all titles of songs that begin with and ponder questions. There is even a sense of apprehension and doubt in Little Drummer Boy, which reminds of our own insecurities and doubts of acceptability in the eyes of a God become man.

Finally, there are a lot of songs that are simply filled with wonder. Even the Christmas song is filled with meditative wonder at the gifts and the blessings of God in our lives.

In our eagerness to celebrate Christmas, I have begun to think we need to take time to ponder at Christmas time a little more. There is a lot of emphasis by persons of faith that we need to remember the "reason for the season", but a lot of time that does not change much of how we remember. The remembering just goes from us getting a bunch of stuff from Santa to associating our materialism and parties with Jesus.

Maybe at Christmas time, especially in the Advent season that precedes Christmas, we need to rediscover the importance of wonder, of coming to terms with our spiritual emptiness and longing that we feel, and to give voice to our desparate longing for renewal and redemption.

Something to think about anyway.

Sunday, December 10, 2006


I wrote this poem on Saturday evening after going up in the mountains for the afternoon. I have to warn you, it is an angst ridden poem full of doubt, confusion, regret, and a longing for hope. (And Mom and sis, don't worry about me I am fine). Much of the poem is playing around with the metaphor of the verb to fall. I was thinking about fallenness in a theological sense (separation from God) and the guilt that comes with a profound sense of that fallen state, taking leaps of faith (falling into the arms of God). It is also a little about what it means to fall in love, and to fall on your face in failure. I hope as you read you will identify with the feelings expressed and how they relate to your own life. Here it is:


know how
get back
on firm
solid ground

in the

all at the

my harbor
of safety
and knowledge
into a
of mystery

tears of
fears of
of doubt
in my

like socks
in the
I'm fallin'

Not sure
what's right
(or left)
or wrong
caught in
a riptide
where effort
seems useless
and surrender
an unacceptable failure

don't know
what part
of me
to trust
what to
how to
turn to
a new

Help me
me know
where to
how to
what to
whether to
say yes
or no.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Something stinks about this.

Most of us have some sort of gastrointestinal struggles while travelling. If you happen to become malodorous as a result of these struggles, it is still important to follow safety rules on our friendly skies. If you click HERE, you will see an example of someone who lacks a little common sense.

(ht to marko)

Meet an old friend of mine....

Scholar, armchair Mormon theologian, Battlestar Galactica buff, Ph D student Ivan Wolfe. Also teammate and high school chum of yours truly, Friar Tuck.

Drop by, say hi, and discuss the musical group Tears for Fears with him. He will soon be added to the blogroll.

God's Good Earth, Part 2

I grew up in the logging center of the world when I was a child. Douglas County, OR, which received its name about the same time as the Douglas Fir. So until late grade school, most of my childhood was spent with people who worked at the lumber mill, were loggers out in the forest, or were involved in other logging related industry.

If one listened to modern environmentalists, they would say that I would have learned abuse for the environment and disrespect for the land from these often hard-drinking, hard living folks. Infact, nothing could be further from the truth.

Early logging was all about pillaging the forests for rapid expansion, but most of the people that I grew up with in the logging industry had a deep respect for natural places. For instance, most of the men I have grown up with were hunters. So, they killed a few deer for their meet every year. However, they also spent hours making their ways to remote places just to look at herds of antelope and deer, and asses the relative health of the animal population. They were not about to eliminate modern forests from the world around them, because the forests were where they made their living. It was also the place where they spent a lot of their time, and a place where they loved to be.

Part of what has bothered me about the environmental movement, even though I have great sympathy for it, is the arrogance of non-local people coming in and inposing arbitrary rules about a land that they knew little about. Also, there is a sense in America in which there is great bias in who and where we chose to use environmental distinctions.

Let me give an example. I grew up in the Northwestern United States. And there is a lot of concern in not touching forests and leaving them as pristine as possible (which at times is a healthy impulse to preserve places of rare beauty, and at other times causes major environmental concerns due to overgrowth.). When I went to school, I spent 7 years in the breadbasket of the United States, and in Colorado Springs I am on the border of the Western Plains. In these two environments, from a Western perspective, I percieved an injustice.

All one has to do is read stories and narratives about the dustbowl to realize the damage that excessive farming has done to the grassland environment of the Midwest. Much of the Great Depression in America could have been averted if we had chosen to give proper care to plains ecosystems. Many environmentalists believe the Ogalla aquifer (The massive underground lake that makes the midwest able to produce and sustain crops from North Dakota to Oklahoma), is being dangerously depleted to such an extent that it may run completely dry in 100 years. Also, due to overfarming, topsoil is being depleted in the midwest at a rapid rate. The best thing to do to avert this is to surrender more and more land in the midwest to seeding the natural grassland that was there until about 130-150 years ago.

Another example is that 200 years ago a lot of the land from the Appalachian mountains to the Mississippi River was land that was forested. Yet, there is not a large movement to reforest much of the land there. Why not? Why not reforest large parts of the Rust Belt where factories have closed, and employ former factory workers to do the work? Why not raze the blocks of abandoned buildings in places like Detroit and St. Louis and create arboreteums in the city.

Yet, where do we pick on? The Northwestern forests. Where people are very knowledgable and skilled on how to harvest trees, while still being sensitive to ecosystems.

One of the frustrations of environmental groups and movements, along with many outreach endeavors (religious, economic development) is that people don't use local people to develop creative solutions to environmental dilemas that can support ecosystems and people that depend on the land around them simultaneously. We need to do better in this regard, both to support people who need to live and eat, and to gain support for responsible, realistic help for the environment.

Friday, December 01, 2006

God's Good Earth Part 1

My sister is an environmentalist. I mean that both in a political and a vocational sense. She works for a non-profit agency seeking to support and preserve sea life and coastal habitat. I am proud of her for that. Actually, I am proud of her for a lot about the woman she has turned out to be, including her calling take baby steps to help heal the damage humans have done to the earth.

When my sister was in high school, and I was in college, I worked to find her resources in our college library and through interlibrary loan to find articles about how the Christian faith relates to the environmental movement (this is when most of us did not have internet capability). There was a lot about St. Francis and his care for animals, which I thought was a credible yet lame example of Christian care for the environment--if that was all their was. In Science magazine in 1967 published an article by Lynn White Jr. called "The Roots of our Ecological Crisis", in which White lays the blame of environmental exploitation on the hands of the Judeo-Christian worldview. And he had some credible arguments.

Since White's seminal article on the relation of religion and environmentalism, Christians have tried to find a narrative of environmental care from Scripture. I believe the pro-environment narrative is there in God's word.

Throughout Scripture there is a sense in which God refers to the natural world as revealing truth about him, and of being witnesses to his glory. When God makes his case about evil done by humans, he asks the mountains and the natural world to be witnesses of what he says. When he gives his law in Leviticus, he makes sure he commands us to let fields lie fallow on a regular basis. And when people command Jesus to silence the crowds, he says that if they were to be quiet the rocks would cry out. Jesus asks us to consider lillies and sparrows (Matt. 5), uses monstrous sea animals as examples of his splendor and his creativity (Job), and gives us trees as role models (Psalm 1). Christ came to earth welcomed by barn animals because people would not give him a place to stay.And the first people that come to meet him are people who care for sheep.

Tony Campolo has shared in his lectures and writings that when a species of animal dies somehow we silence the voice of God. Not because each animal and human is part divine (which is more pantheism than Christianity), but because each creation was spoken into existence by God (Gen 1-3), and creation is meant to give God glory and ascribe worship to him (Revelation 4). I think to a certain point I agree with Dr. Campolo, and it informs my attitude of care for the environment.

The challenge of the issue is this for me right now. It seems fairly clear to me that much of big business and oil have formed an unholy alliance with the religious right in many ways (although that is changing). It also seems very clear to me that the political left, often the radical political left, is closely aligned with a some environmental projects that are at worst dishonest, and at best unjust toward the immediate needs of the working class, the poor and the destititute. And changes are often advocated by children of yuppies who live off trust funds so they can have the luxury of making not wearing deodorant or washing their hair in the name of their ideals. But when the Kjoto treaty tries to address this in giving China a little more time to catch up, then the right steps in (supported by the extreme religous right) to push America away from ratifying the treaty. In other worlds, I think when people are beholden to a political agenda as their moral voice when it comes to environmental concerns, they end up decieved and used by both conservatives (the industrial elite) and liberals (the over-"educated" elite).

Which leaves me to share where environmental concerns inform my lifestlyle and when they do not. Which is a forthcoming post.

Who Said It? Jesus or someone else?

This is a quiz I am developing for Sunday school in a couple of days. Tell me which quotes you think are from Jesus, and which quotes you think are from someone else. Write them down. The answers appear in the comment section once you have taken the quiz. See how you do, and then tell me how you did.

1.The Truth shall set you free

2.The Soul of a man is immortal and imperishable

3.The unexamined life is not worth living

4.Love never claims, it ever gives

5.He who does not love God does not know God, for God is love

6.I have come that they may have life

7.What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose their soul

8.From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs

9.The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak

10.Over the soul God will not suffer any man to rule, only he himself will rule there

11.Both heaven and hell are within us

12.The kingdom of God is within you

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


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?

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:

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

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

Atari Flashback
Console Cooler for the car

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)

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

Casual Male XL
King Size Male
Best Buy

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


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


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.


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
of milk and

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

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Leaving on a Jet Plane

Left Colorado for Orange County on Monday...which means you will probably hear from me more in the next couple of days.

Am here until the 9th

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Book Lust

Every once in a while I need to make a list and confess about all the books I have been lusting for bust have yet to make my own. Here is a recent list of books I want

Waking Lazerus
Five Disfunctions of a Team
What Happy Companies Know
Never Eat Alone
Day with a Stranger
Forty Million Dollar Slaves
Rick Warrens Bible Study Methods
Reflections for Movie Lovers
Hip Hop Church --E Smith
Laughing Pilgrims --Macy
It Came from Within
Wild Man, WIld Alaska by McElven
Importance of Foolishness--Manning
Kill the Indian, Save the Man--Churchill

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Infinite Value

When I was in seminary, I had a professor of evangelism and church growth named Dr. Russ Jones that was wonderful. He taught will passion, and he had a lot of practical advice on leading churches. One time, he shared with us, he was visiting with a person skeptical about the Christian faith. This person asked him to put in one sentence what the Christian faith was all about. My friend responded, "The Christian faith is about the infinite value of each human being to a loving God." I thought that was very well said, so much so that I remember it to this day.

The Bible tells a story. And the story is about a shepherd. The shepherd brought his sheep to the destination he was heading to, and he realized that there was one sheep left behind. So the shepherd left the rest of the sheep to fend for themselves while he went and looked for the one lost sheep. This passage has always frustrated and confounded me. Why is he leaving all these other sheep unguarded? Why does he value one sheep so much? And the answer I came to is the answer that I also heard from my professor. We like the sheep have infinite value to God. God will go to almost any length to draw us to himself.

In Ephesians 5:1 we are told to be "imitators of God, as dearly loved children." Many times when we hear this we hear this as a call to purity and holiness. In part communicated by the WWJD drive a couple of years ago, we see being imitators of Jesus as a call to ethical living. Indeed, that is a very important part of the message of what it means to walk in Jesus footsteps.

However, if we are to be apprentices to Jesus, and we believe that Dr. Jones is right, than a big part of doing what Jesus did is to communicate to people that they have infinite value in God's sight. We need to communicate this in the words that we speak to spiritual seekers, and to one another. As a matter of fact, we are called to commuicate this truth in all that we do or say.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Dave Matthews Band - Everyday

This is my favorite video of all time. And it is my favorite video because it speaks so much to the nature of my calling to the ministry.

For example, look at how difficult a time he has at the beginning of the video, and how the movement he is a part of begins to grow and grow as he goes along. In the end other people are beginning to catch on and he no longer has to be the center of the mission.

Also, look at his ordinariness. He is a fairly plain, average looking guy dressed in very average garb.

It also speaks to the essence of the gospel, communicating to each person their eternal value to God.

Amazing video.
U2 and Green Day

A Brilliant Moving Video and song. Based on a punk song from over 20 years ago. The benefit album with four songs on it goes on sale digitally next week.

Blizzard 06

After being 70 degrees the day before it started snowing in the early morning on Thursday, and was like this by late morning. Today it is in the 50s.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Some good tunes

A friend gave me this album. I love it! It has a little bit of a country flavor, but still remains typical Jimmy Buffett.

The first track "Bama Breeze" is a song that is both fun and sad at the same time, as it reminisces about a bar. In the video it was damaged by Hurricane Katrina.

My favorite song is the sixth track, which is all about in-betweenness. It is called Nothin' But a Breeze.

Buffett has two songs that give some thought to the end of time and the end of things. The first is Regaebilly Hill, which sounds a lot like a calypso version of the I Have a Dream Speech and Flannery O'Connor's short story REVELATION. The second is more about an eternal party with dancing and New Orleans Jazz. It is called Silver Wings.

A little sarcasm for your day

A song review

A couple of weeks ago I received a generous gift of CDs to listen to from a friend of a friend of mine. I have not gotten to all the songs and the music, but one album I have played over and over. That album is the John Mayer’s Continuum album. One song that caught my ear was the first track on the album called “Waiting on the World to Change”.

The character in this story in the song, according to several interviews with John Mayer, is trying to explain why his generation seems apathetic toward most efforts to make this world a better place. As the song says, “we see everything with the world and those who lead it, we just feel like we don’t have the means to rise above and beat it.”

The solution that the character in the song offers is simply waiting until some time in the future when the world is a better place and making a change seems easier. He suggests that this may happen as the older generation of leaders passes away and younger generations are able to more easily transition into places of influence and do the right thing.

The Bible suggests a less withdrawn position toward the world around us. It challenges us to remember that God can use us to make a difference while we are still young (I Timothy 4:12). Jesus told us to be the “light of the world” (Matthew 5:14), and to be “the salt of the earth” (Matthew 5:13). Jesus told us that God loves the world (John 3:16), and that he is sending us into the world on his behalf (John 17:8). He tells us not to fear the evil in the world as we go to make a difference because he has overcome the world (John 16:33).

From early on, I have always seen my ministry in churches as having two missions. One mission is to do the administration, outreach, discipleship and ministry tasks that the church has asked me to do. The other was to use whatever influence I have to foster healthy transformation of churches so that they can be more engaged with and active in the world around them. When I shared this with a denominational executive when I was in an interview in seminary, he told me that I needed to have courage to make one change in myself for every change I was asking the church to make. I took that advice to heart. And although I am not perfect, I hope that people can see that I am a person that allows the Holy Spirit to grow me, however slow that may be.

What change do you want to see in the world? Do you wish people were better mannered in public? Go out of your way to be courteous to others! Do you want to see more young people in church? Make yourself more open to working with young people! Do you want to see a loved one be more connected to God? Become more connected to God through prayer yourself.


Saying What Needs to be Said, But Should Go Without Saying           Racism is wrong. Violence based on racial prejudice is wrong. Christi...