Friday, February 26, 2010

Book Review: The Shark and the Goldfish

I just took a break from working on meetings for the weekend and read the book The Shark and the Goldfish by Jon Gordon. It was a fun read, and a stellar book to read when guiding yourself or an organization through difficult change.

The story is written about a goldfish who was dropped into the oceran by a little boy who took him to the beach. The goldfish is lost in the great big sea compared to his little fishbowl, and does not know how to survive. Luckily for him a shark shows him how to be more like a shark and less like a goldfish. The sharks instructions are both essential for his survival, and the tool that will help him thrive in the new environment.

You see, a goldfish is used to having others feed him. A shark is used to getting his food for himself. The goldfish does not believe he will be able to make it, because he does not have anyone to feed him. Slowly but surely the shark shows him that the goldfish's future is in his own hands. He has to learn the art of finding food.

There are several quotes I will share with you later, but the main point of all of them is that one's future is what one makes of it. And, if we keep swimming around hoping someone else will help us or feed us or make our life better we will end up disappointed. Our choices are in our hands.

This book speaks to communities as well as individuals. As a church leader, I find this parable helpful. We putter along, hoping for people to swim into our church and for our church to grow. Or we hope that the pastor's skill in leadership and/or preaching will grow our church in and of itself. God doesn't have us in a fishbowl. He has put us in an abundant ocean of life full of blessings and asked us to swim. And, as I go into our church business meeting I need to remember to remind people that we cannot wait for our future to come to us, we need to go out and move toward our future. I need to keep reminding people about that.

As a human being, I need to keep allowing God to lead me by faith into the future instead of creating a future for myself where I end up fearful and stuck.

Some fun quotes:
If you think your best days are behind you, they are. If you think your best days are ahead of you, they are. (p. 25)

Your belief must be greater than your negativity and doubt (p. 32)

Instead of being disappointed about where you are, be optimistic about where you are going (p. 47)

Best of the bloggies....

Scot McKnight's reflections on Eugene Peterson

Eric on the Tiger confession

Dennis Bickers on parsonage living

Stephanie's reflection on her bad day

Matt's book review

Reagan's thoughts on the Lenten Season

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

For Real?: Tony Kornheiser punished for having a sense of humor

Today Tony Kornheiser was suspended from PTI for two weeks. He was suspended because he made disparaging remarks about Hannah Storm's outfit on Sportscenter.

Now criticizing fashion choices has always been a part of Tony's on-air personality. Often he is the butt of his own jokes about what he wears.

I have read his comments, and I am not sure it is any different than we would hear Joan Rivers say on the TV GUIDE channel. They are certainly not sexist, as Tony often makes fun of what men wear as well.

This another example of how we are losing our freedom of speech to political correctness one special interest group at a time

Monday, February 22, 2010

Sermon on 2/21--Barn Builder

The Barn Builder
13 Then one from the crowd said to Him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”
14 But He said to him, “Man, who made Me a judge or an arbitrator over you?” 15 And He said to them, “Take heed and beware of covetousness,[a] for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses.”
16 Then He spoke a parable to them, saying: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded plentifully. 17 And he thought within himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no room to store my crops?’ 18 So he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build greater, and there I will store all my crops and my goods. 19 And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry.”’ 20 But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?’
21 “So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.”

The movie begins with two men, both ill with cancer, stuck in a hospital room together. One, a man named Carter and played by Morgan Freeman, is a gifted historian who has worked in a garage fixing cars his whole career. The other man named Edward, and played by Jack Nicolson, is a four-time divorced health care tycoon who is alone except for his personal assistant, who he never calls by name. At first, they begin by needling one another. But the two men eventually become friends.
One day, while sitting in bed, Carter scribbles out a list. He writes out a list of dreams. Being a man of limited resources, in the middle of writing out the list he throws it on the floor in disgust. He will never get to see his dreams realized. He will most likely be dead soon.
The ornery Edward picks up this piece of paper. On the top of the paper is the list entitled “bucket list”. Edward quizzes Carter about the list. Carter eventually reveals that the list in things that he would like to do before he “kicks the bucket”. Edward has the means to allow Carter to accomplish many of these goals.
The second part of the movie sees Carter and Edward jet setting around the world, doing things like climbing the pyramids and skydiving. Edward has a few wishes. But really he is typical of many Jack Nicolson characters of late, a man who has all he needs except right relationships with friends and family. Carter’s friendship subtly becomes a big part of Edward’s bucket list. This is unknown to both of them.
Finally, when Carter is faced with temptation to cheat on his wife, he realizes that what he really wants is to be home with his friends and family. They both fly back to California.
It is then that we learn the truth about Edward. He has jets that can fly him around the world, but he cannot find a way to make it through his daughter’s front door, and has never met his granddaughter. He has built homes and barns if you will, but the deepest desires of his heart are unmet. He is alone without friends and unable to relate to his family. Although he has every worldly pleasure at his fingertips, he is utterly miserable.
He is, like the man who yelled at Jesus demanding justice on an inheritance or the man that built all sorts of barns, focused on wealth and power instead of being in right relationship with those he values, loves and misses.
The Bible says that there was this man in the crowd that wanted Jesus to adjudicate a conflict between him and his brother. Well, not so much be a judge between them and rule in his favor against his brother. In effect the brother cried out, “My brother is the executor of my parent’s estate. He is not dividing the wealth quickly. Could you make my brother give me my share of my inheritance and do it now”.
This kind of request was not unheard of for a teacher. Teachers were often asked to arbitrate or mediate conflicts. Jesus did not like the request though.
You always hope things go well when a relative passes away, but that is not always the case. My mom gave me a call a few years back telling me that her grandmother, and my great-grandmother had passed away. We all felt the loss immediately. She was a wonderful woman. Then I got a call the next day. My aunt Mary was executor of the estate. She was running over to Grandma Pearl’s house early in the morning to replace the locks. Even as she went to do that, relatives had been puttering around the house looking for the jewelry they thought they were entitled to. In addition, they were measuring the furniture to see which pieces would fit in the house. Grandma Pearl wasn’t even off the morticians slab yet and they were hovering like vultures. Still makes me angry.
I wish this behavior was uncommon. It is not. As often as people come closer after the death of a loved one, they often pull further away. Fighting for their rights. Harboring grudges. Its sad really. Because in moments like that, more than anything, what we need to know is that we are not alone.
No wonder Jesus wanted no part of this dispute. He had more important things to tend to in his ministry. Besides, getting in the middle of a conflict like that makes as much sense as trying to arbitrate the politics in a clique of junior high girls. It is a no win situation.
Even though Jesus was not going to be a lawyer, he did have some words of wisdom for this anonymous man from Scripture. He told the man to beware of covetousness. Then he told him that life was about more than what you can possess. What you can own.
Then he told them a story. He said that there was this guy that a fertile farm. The farm produced fine crops. He had a bumper harvest. More than he could store even.
Now, in that day, there were several options at his disposal. And the thing that people generally liked to do was to visit with other folks in the village. Especially the elders. Because crops, as you know, notoriously vary from year to year. Maybe someone would have some barns to store the food in. Maybe there was someone in need. Maybe he could trade with someone who needed what he had.
This man had only himself to talk to. To Jesus and the Mediterranean mind at that time this is very sad. Only himself to talk to. No family. No friends. Just stuff.
So he decided that he is going to have bigger barns built. Then he is going to store all of his crop in the barns for years to come. He will live on easy street he says to himself. He will eat drink and be merry he tells himself. Alone. Just him and his stuff.
One of my favorite TV shows to watch is Hoarders, which is preceded by Intervention. Intervention is an hour long documentary each week about someone who is addicted to something, and how their families try and help them recover. Hoarders, my favorite of the two, is about people whose homes and yards are full of clutter because they cannot let go of stuff that they have.
They share one thing in common. Both shows document people who have gotten to a point in life where they have a chosen a thing or things as their primary source of relationship instead of persons or living beings. And even when they have living beings that they hoard (like cats and dogs), they don’t care for them as much as they own them and use them to meet their emotional “needs”.
In Intervention, when a person is in full-on addiction mode, they do not care about the persons around them at all. They just care about their fix. It does not matter who they have to lie to or manipulate, they are going to get their drugs. And it is only when they are confronted with how much they are hurting others and have a mirror held up to their emotional and spiritual lives that people acknowledge that they need help.

Hoarders has this relation to things in even clearer display. The people have piles upon piles of stuff that they are relating to because they are lonely. They lost a loved one, and so they keep everything that reminds them of it. They are having marital problems, and the things they buy at the thrift store meets emotional needs. Their kids leave home, and they hold on to everything. They keep things to entertain people with, but the things they hoard leads to the person pushing people further and further away. An old man has hundreds of old washing machines in the front yard because the scrap metal might mean that he can pay for his grandkids education. And the more they get into their stuff, the further they get away from those that they love. The more isolated they become from their communities. Many of these people are not rich. In our society, it doesn’t take much in the way of dumpster diving and garage sale purchases to fill your place with junk. And so the hoarders build their barns full of the things that make them think they will be happy, and feel emptier than ever.
So the farmer tears down his barns and builds new ones the Bible says. And he seems pleased with himself. And then that night, God comes to this rich farmer. He calls him a fool. He tells him that that night his life will end, and he will go into eternity. “What good will your wealth be now?” Jesus says, “Who is going to inherit all your crops and enjoy all you have earned?”
Jesus goes on to say, “So is he who lays up treasure for himself, but is not rich toward God”.
The farmer put all his security in his stuff. Jesus says he has chosen poorly.
None of us here, to my knowledge, are rich. Most of us can still struggle in putting our security in things and stuff instead of investing in relationships with those God has put in our path. Most of us can place our security in stuff, and forget that our ultimate security should be in the Lord Almighty.
We want our kids and grandkids to be happy. So we buy them the name brand clothes that they want so that they will be liked by others. But there is always a new pair of shoes that are cooler, or a new pair of jeans that they must have.
We are not content with what we have been provided. So we put a new television or a new gun we want or that new outfit on the credit card. Then we end up out of work, wondering how to pay the bills. We think stuff can make us happy and satisfy our souls.
We can even live frugally, and spend years worried from month to month that we might not have enough to get by in a rainy day. And so we are miserly, and ungenerous toward everyone around us. Then we go into the nursing home and realize that everything we worked for is eaten up in about 6 months in medical cost and nursing home expenses.
Both the word “be merry” (or enjoy) and “fool” have the same root word. The root word has to do with the diaphragm. Be merry could be translated in a more literal way, “breathe easy”. The word fool speaks about having breathe taken away. He thought he could breathe easy, the word picture seems to say, but then he had his breathe taken away. Powerful stuff.
We hoard all sorts of things. We fill our barns of memories of the way it used to be and the way it should be today, and we get bitter and alone. We fill our lives with all sorts of noise on the television that makes us uncomfortable going out the door. We fill our lives full of activities so that we never have to slow down enough to actually relate to someone. We fill our lives running from experience to experience, sensation to sensation, one high to another, not wanting to miss out on anything, and in the process missing everything.
The greatest things in our lives are not the trucks we have in front of the house, the experience we had last night that we are too drunk to remember, the heirloom we have on our shelves, or the flat-screen television we see the world through. No, the greatest joys in our lives are the prayers of a child around a dinner table, a good hearty belly laugh at a well-spoken joke, a hug from someone we love, a sense of God’s presence even in the darkest hour.
The greatest things we have in our lives are not things at all. They are the people and the God we give our lives to. When we give away our time to our grandkids, and spend time truly listening to someone we love, we find we feel rich. When we experience the hope that God gives us when we least deserve it, the blessings that we receive when we give and don’t expect anything in return. That is when we find we have the treasures that everyone would want, but nobody can buy.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


Once again, I am seeking to practice Lent as a spiritual discipline this year. Lent seems for me to be a time to try on a new way of living and some new practices as an act of worship. I tend to be very goal-oriented during Lent. Some people find this distasteful. But I find it helpful to have some pragmatic handles for growth in denial and addition of things in my life.

My focus for this year is going to be HONORING MY BODY (as poor of a body as it is).
It will include the following acts of denial and acceptance. I am looking for people who would be willing to be accountability partners with me in Fowler until Easter. Notice I said partners, not necessarily just a coach. If you are interested, let me know. I start on these after the Ash Wednesday service this evening:

1. Walking the dog daily, regardless of the weather
2. Walking 4 laps around Gerard Park w/o the dog in addition to dog walks each day.
3. Getting to the gym 3 days a week for 45 minutes on the elliptical and at least 2 weight lifting exercises (one for lower body, the other for upper body)
4. 100 crunches a day

1. No Mountian Dew
2. Pop only on weekends
3. No seconds at dinner (except w/ pizza)
4. Eat one fruit and vegitable serving a day
5. No regular or king-sized candy bars or candy
6. No snacks but fruit or veggies after 9pm

1. Go to the dentist
2. Take prescribed medication and floss daily
3. Go to the doctor

1. Get in a hot tub or pool at least once a month
2. Use sauna at least once a month
3. Purchase at least one pair of pants and one shirt I feel good about wearing
4. Drink at one "heart-healthy" beverage each day for Lent

1. Find at least 2 unrelated people to keep me accountable on this lenten journey
2. Choose at least one discipline from each catagory to adopt for the year

*exceptions made for all nite activities such as birth of child or youth lock-in.

Baby Name

First Name: Karis
Derived from the Greek charis, with a phonetic spelling. The word in the Greek New Testament for grace, which roughly means "unmerited favor" or as I explain it "undeserved gift". Hesitated on this name when my college roomate's child was also named this, but since I have seen him only once in the last 12 years....i decided that they could deal with a similar name for our kid.

Middle Name: Hope
So our child's name means "an undeserved gift of hope". Which...I think is kind of cool.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Cleanliness and Godliness - Books & Culture

I love Lauren Winner's writing. Here is another fascinating article about something we give very little thought to:

Cleanliness and Godliness - Books & Culture

Differing Expectations

I find it interesting how we as Americans radically adjust our expectation for our Winter Olympians. When I watch the Summer Olympics, anything but a gold is a disappointment. Certainly, not medaling seems like failure. But, in the winter games, we lower our expectations and standards.

We are in the top 10 in biathalon? Lets celebrate! We got in the top 10 in pairs figure skating? How wonderful. Try that with basketball or swimming expectations. See how that works for you.

I find the tolerance for mediocrity very interesting. And, a little disappointing.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Eva's Song

Last Tuesday, I went into Pueblo to visit a member of our church. The member's name is Eva, and she was suffering with a bout of pneumonia. Eva has had a rough go of it lately. When I arrived here about two years ago, she was recovering from an injury that would not allow her to walk as much as she needed to. This frustrated her, but she rarely complained, and if she did complain it was to blame herself for not being able to heal fast enough or work hard enough.

Around October, Eva had another visit to the hospital. It was decided at that point that she would stay with her son Roger and his family. Eva would hold the babies during the day care her daughter-in-law ran. She eventually got sick, and her illness quickly turned from a cold into pneumonia. She was taken to the hospital.

When I visited Eva Tuesday, I spent a little time visiting with her, and a lot of time visiting with her son Roger. Roger and I talked vacation and golf, and about life in general. It was a good chat. When it came time for me to leave, I asked Eva if I could pray for her. Her poor hearing led her to believe that I was requesting that she pray for all of us. She told us to bow our heads, so we did. She told us to close our eyes, and we did that too. Then Eva began to pray.

Some people might be grieved by Eva's prayer. As she prays, it becomes clear that her mind is not as clear as it was months, or even weeks ago. She got stuck in a loop of prayers. For many this loop would be sad, for others a dark comedy. It has elements of both these things. But most of all, the prayer was beautiful.

It was beautiful because when Eva could not think of anything else, and she did not have the intellectual capacity to pray in the way you know she could in earlier years, she kept repeating the same word. That word was "thank you".

"Thank you Lord for this day....thank you....thank you Lord for our friends and family...thank you...thank you for providing us the food we ate....thank you....most of all Lord we thank you for Jesus, who loved us enough to make a way for us to spend eternity with you....thank you..."

She kept saying her thank you's over and over again. She would note God's work in creation. She would note God's love for us. She would thank God for Jesus. Not just once, or twice, but over and over again. I left the hospital after I finished by praying for her. On the drive home I found myself fighting back tears. And I was not fighting back tears because she is dying. I was fighting back tears because of her testimony. When her mind could not think through a paragraph, her heart kept saying "Thank you Lord, thank you, thank you!"

In one of my internships in seminary I visited a Alzheimer's clinic with a mentor/pastor named Charles. As we wandered through the clinic, we sat with a member of Charles' church in the cafeteria. Around us people screamed outoud, "Lord, why? Lord, why?" and "Please God just let me die." as the top of their lungs.

To be honest, I can't blame them. I hurt for the people in the Alzheimer's clinic that day. That is why I was so moved when Eva said, "Thank you!"

Through the week, I wondered if this was simply an anomaly. On Thursday, Eva's sons Richard and Roger moved Eva to the Fowler Nursing Home. I went to visit her. It took a while for her to understand who I was and why I was there. We chatted a little bit. Then she started singing

"Allleluia, Alleluia. God is so good. Alleluia," Eva sang.

Eva kept singing "alleluiah's" until she sang herself to sleep. I said good bye to the sons chatting at the door. I walked out to my car. Eva could hardly recognize me. We could hardly have a conversation. But as I walked to my car it was my turn to mumble to myself, "thank you, Lord, thank you for Eva."

Monday, February 08, 2010

Book Review: Tithing by Douglas Leblanc

Tithing by Douglas Leblanc is a book in a series of books called The Ancient Practices Series by Thomas Nelson Publishers. Each of the books in the series picks up on a historic practice of the Christian Church throughout its history, shares its importance, and speaks about how the practice can be best implemented in the contemporary church. I own several books in the series. What is interesting about the series is not only the diversity in denominational backgrounds of the authors of each book, but also the variation in the styles in which the authors present their material. Leblanc’s Tithing is the best example of this style variation.

Leblanc is a journalist by trade. In order to teach us about tithing, he seeks out tithing Christians and one Jewish rabbi to share their perspectives. These people reflect the diversity of believers across America. The profiles are of pacifists and veterans, liberals and conservatives, evangelicals and Catholics. The subjects of the interviews are also from each different region of the country, and they reflect a little racial diversity. Each person is passionate about the importance of tithing to grow one’s faith, although their motivations vary. The way that people give ten percent varies too. Some give all of their money to their local church. Others distribute their financial resources among other ministries. Still more reserve some of their tithe for assistance of persons in need.

Personally, this book was my favorite in the series. It was helpful to hear several different reasons for tithing. Some gave because it was their tradition, others for social justice reasons, others to be faithful to a clear demand of Scripture, and one believed a tithe was a kind of “earnest money” in the life of discipleship and blessings of the kingdom. Each of these reasons worked for me. Some people’s methods of how they tithe differed. This did not bother me much. No matter the method of tithing, I believe that “God loves a cheerful giver”.
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Thursday, February 04, 2010

Book Review: The Emotionally Healthy Church by Peter Scazzero

The Emotionally Healthy Church is a book about an emotionally healthy model of spiritual vitality for individuals and congregations. The book has four parts. The first two parts of the book lay out the need for emotionally healthy congregations and church leaders. The second two parts go about sharing the elements of an emotionally healthy disciple and an emotionally healthy congregation.

I have mixed emotions about this book. One one hand, I thought the whole book was mistitled. The title of the book--The Emotionally Healthy Church--leads one to believe that the book will be about community formation. Instead the book is about promoting emotional health in leaders, and then hoping that this penchant for emotional health will trickle down from the leadership to the congregation. The title should have made this more clear.

However, once I decided to read the book anyway I discovered a lot to think about and grow with in my ministry. It challenged me to work on ways to become more emotionally healthy, and to find ways to communicate that to my family and hopefully at some point to the church family I lead. There is a lot of good content in the book, and every pastoral leader should read The Emotionally Healthy Church and think about what it says

Growth in Faith and Mountain Driving

Every once in a while, especially among pastors and church leaders, there is a discussion that revolves around what a disciple looks like. There are some who believe that growth in Christlikeness is a straight line process. Sometimes a person may grow quicker, and sometimes a person may grow slower. Either way, the "straight-line" person would say true growth in faith is consistent growth in Christlikeness. An example of this would be the model of discipleship put together by Saddleback Church, where there is a baseball metaphor of discipleship. Discipleship is understood as a step by step process.

Others tend to view Christian growth as a more meandering process. There are ups and downs. A person goes in one direction, and then another. Everyone's journey is different. This model of Christian growth is grace-infused and true to many people's individuals experiences. However, it leaves people with very few handles on what Christian growth means, and seems to little to know hope for true spritual transformation.

I tend to think of spiritual growth like a slow ascent up a mountain road. Are you climbing? Yes. But on the road their are plenty of steep ascents, dips, curves and unexpected obstacles. Its is not something you race through to get to the peak. It is something you do to both arrive at your destination and enjoy the ups and downs of the journey toward maturity.

Anyway...just a thought for the day.

Seth Godin On Curiosity

I love videos like this. They are challenging and affirming at the same time. (ht Erin)

'curiosity' from Nic Askew on Vimeo.


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