Tuesday, December 30, 2008

An Echoing Trinity

About 5 years ago, in a fit of creative hopes, I bought myself a cheap beginner set of acrylics, wanting to learn to paint. I had no idea what to get my brothers for Christmas this year, so I decided to finally bust open the tubes and do a couple paintings for them. This is one of them, along with a poem I wrote to go with it: "An Echoing Trinity".

Intertwined, They dwell in hearts of men
and outside all space and time.
A mystery of three - can't quite understand
the nature of One so alive.
But whether or not I can comprehend
He's there in a perfect display
Of life and of mercy - a Spirit, a Son,
and a Father of consumate grace.

He spoke and stars leaped
all we know came to be,
out of His relationship -

So now, intertwined are my brothers and I
in a life that's not quite what we'd be.
But a life nonetheless He can handle I guess
an echoing Trinity.

New Year's Imaginations

*Originally written for our WestWay newsletter - thought I'd post it here, as well.
It’s my conviction that slight shifts in imagination have more impact on living than major efforts at change.” –Thomas Moore

You may have already made New Year’s Resolutions by the time you read this. You may have even already broken them! Why do we do this every year? Why do we decide that we don’t like certain aspects of our lives, so we’ll resolve to change them – to fix ourselves?

Haven’t we learned yet that it doesn’t work? Our resolve isn’t strong enough. Real transformation of our lives is never going happen by our own sheer will power, no matter how much of it we have. Our “major efforts at change” are insufficient for the metamorphosis we really need.

But if you’ll return to your childhood for a moment, you may remember something important: when you were a kid, you could be anything. Your imagination allowed you to play in the NFL, and rescue people from fires, and maybe even leap tall buildings in a single bound… You could be the princess, deeply loved and cherished by your devoted prince…

I wonder… when did our imagination die? When did we stop believing in “what might be” and enter into self made prison of “that’s just the way it is”? When did the sin in our lives gain enough gravity to rob us of our hope to soar?

As disciples of Jesus, we need to re-ignite our imaginations. We need to turn our imagination over to Him and allow Him to show us what we can only be in Him. And then watch Him turn His imagination into our reality. Instead of mustering up all the resolve we can manage to change ourselves this year, let’s find out what dreams exist in the heart of our Father and let Him make His dreams come true in our lives.

Friday, December 19, 2008

At the Crossroads 1.4

Jeremiah had a lot of bad news to deliver - and people don't like to hear bad news. He had to warn people that the way they were living was going to end in their destruction. People didn't want to hear it. They just wanted to live their lives their own way and be left alone.

But Jeremiah had no choice. His relationship with God was deep enough that he couldn't just sit by and watch his nation be destroyed by their own choices. He cared enough about his countrymen that he delivered the messages God gave to him - even at a high personal cost.

In Jer. 26, things had escalated to the point that the crowd to which Jeremiah was preaching became a mob that was ready to take his life. Still he held on to the truth. All he had to do was offer some promise of peace (like so many other false prophets were doing) and he would have been spared. Just go with the flow, and the people would have let him be.

But as the crowd called for his death, and some royal officials arrived to "hold court", he would not let go of the truth. You see, Jeremiah had 'stood at the crossroads' and found the ancient way. He'd determined to walk in it - in obedience to God no matter what. So now he says to the court, "I'm at your mercy - do whatever you think is best. But... if you kill me, you kill an innocent man. I didn't say any of this on my own. God sent me and told me what to say."

Despite the objections of 'the priests and prophets', the court lets Jeremiah go. Finally, it seems, someone had believed him. Even some of the leaders got it. They remembered another prophet who had truthfully delivered news of impending destruction. Hezekiah, the king then, listened and prayed for mercy from God. And God spared the people of that time because they heard Him.

We need to decide what we'll do with the message of God today. Will we listen? Will we obey? Or will we ignore His Words to us? God has plans to care for us, not abandon us. But if we won't listen to His plans, we'll miss out on His future.

So "Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it..."

See you at the crossroads.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Imagine... Obstacles Pt. 3

"One of the great dangers of leadership is this: we stop doing ministry out of imagination and we start doing ministry out of memory. We learn how and forget why. We stop creating the future and start repeating the past." - Mark Batterson

A third obstacle to doing ministry out of imagination is Misunderstanding of Leadership.  What is leadership?  Specifically, what does leadership look like in the church?  

If leadership in ministry means preservation of the past, then imagination may be unnecessary and even unhelpful.  But I would argue that leadership is not about preserving the past, but about creating the future.  Imagination is needed to pioneer - but maybe not so much to maintain the status quo.

In ministry, there is a lot of pressure to 'keep the constituents happy'.  Sing the songs that I like... Keep the sermons a little shorter... Play the games we enjoy and make sure we do those same activities that we really liked last year...  

It's a lot like my 2 year old, actually.  "Give me what I want, or I'll cry."  It is completely in my power to give her what she wants everytime.  (Often, it would be a lot easier.)  But as a father, my job isn't to give my kids what they want - it's to teach them to live.  At times, those two objectives are at odds with each other.

Ministry is similar.  Sometimes, what the students in my ministry really need is not even similar to what they want.  My job isn't to entertain them - it's to lead them to life.  But again, the pressures to get a lot of kids to come are sometimes at odds with what it takes to disciple.  The nature of discipleship has a narrowing effect on crowds.

It requires sacrifice that many are not willing to make.

John records a point in Jesus' ministry when, "From this time, many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him."  It was a hard teaching that he had presented.  He was leading to places the people had never been before and they weren't comfortable.  Jesus could have leaned back on his miracles to bring them back around.  He could have done the whole walking on water thing again, that was pretty impressive...  But instead, he indicated to his inner circle that the ride wasn't over, asking them if they planned on leaving too?  It was as if he asked them, "Which tomorrow are you choosing?  The one with me or without me?"

Always the one to speak up, Peter points out that there was no where else to go to get what he has.  "You have the words of eternal life."

Peter recognized that Jesus wasn't there to coddle them and make them feel good about their fine (or not so fine) Jewish upbringing.  He was there to teach them to live.  That is leadership in the church, and it requires us to look past what is and see what could be.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Imagine... Obstacles Pt. 2

"One of the great dangers of leadership is this: we stop doing ministry out of imagination and we start doing ministry out of memory. We learn how and forget why. We stop creating the future and start repeating the past." -Mark Batterson

Being Tired is another obvious obstacle to doing ministry out of imagination rather than memory. Sometimes, it's just easier to brush off an old message or lesson than to wrestle with a new one. There are definitely going to be times in ministry when the energy level is lower than what would be best. Creativity/Imagination takes more energy than repetition, so during the 'tired' times it's easy to fall into memory mode.

But worse than being tired is Being Lazy. It's not just a temporary resting on the past, but a willful decision to repeat yesterday even when tomorrow is crying for our attention. It's knowing that a new approach is needed, but being unwilling to invest the energy to create or discover that new approach.

But a world that never stops moving requires our ministries to continually adapt. We can't afford to to just repeat last year's program. Though it may have been exactly what last year needed, last year is not today. And today is not tomorrow. We can't be lazy about ministry. If we're tired, perhaps we need to make room for rest.

I have to confess that I do not do this well. Coming to the end of the December, I'm sitting on more leftover vacation days than I've used the entire rest of the year. Dumb. Have I accomplished more by not taking more breaks? I don't think so. But I sure have made myself tired. I'm worn down - and I know that I'm not able to offer my best because of that. I need rest.

To stop the gears that grind the heart,
the mind, the soul, the you who lives,
Be still.
And know...
"He is."

Friday, December 12, 2008

Imagine... Obstacles Pt. 1

"One of the great dangers of leadership is this: we stop doing ministry out of imagination and we start doing ministry out of memory. We learn how and forget why. We stop creating the future and start repeating the past." -Mark Batterson

Disconnection from God would obviously not be a good thing in ministry. If ministry is an ambassadorship, then strong ties to the One who's sent us is pretty important. Yet, the demands of ministry on our time and emotional reserves can often choke the life out of our connection with God. Differing opinions within a congregation as to what our ministry should be can get us so concerned and busy with keeping our flock appeased that we become distant from our Shepherd. Even success (however that may be defined in ministry) can lull us into a sense of accomplishment and sufficiency that causes us to stop relying on God.

If we are not extremely intentional about spending time with the Creator who crafted us for ministry in the first place, our imagination and creativity will suffer. He's the source of creativity. Whatever we can accomplish apart from Him falls short of what He desires.

"I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing." -Jesus

When we rely on our own reserves to accomplish the ministry that is before us, we dictate certain failure. I once was asked by a good man if I thought he had what it takes to be a lead minister. I said "You can do it if that's what God wants to do through you." The truth is that none of us 'has what it takes'. None of us are qualified or worthy to bear the mantle of leadership of the Body of Christ. But Paul urged the Corinthian disciples to "...think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things..."

Paul prayed to "Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us..." I'm afraid that if we divorce ourselves from an Imagination that immeasurably supersedes our own, we also miss out on His power, leaving us inadequately equipped for a ministry fueled in the imagination.

A great resource for thinking about building an ever-strengthening connection with our Father is Eugene Peterson's Under the Unpredictable Plant.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Imagine... Right Brain Preaching

I just came across an article by Batterson that relates imagination with preaching. He suggests that effective communication needs to be imaginative and "whole brain" (as opposed to left-brain only logical oratory).

There's a great quote of Thomas Moore in the article: "It's my conviction that slight shifts in imagination have more impact on living than major efforts at change." (I've been asked to speak at a New Years Eve party/retreat about the difference between real change and empty promises - I'll definitely be using that.)

Anyone who preaches would do well to check out the article.

While I'm making suggestions, Andy Stanley's book, Communicating for a Change, is another helpful look at the art involved in the crafting and delivery of transformational preaching.


I can't remember exactly where I first read it, but I came across this thought again yesterday that we should do ministry out of imagination, not just out of memory. Mark Batterson, who may be the first writer I found this from, writes: "One of the great dangers of leadership is this: we stop doing ministry out of imagination and we start doing ministry out of memory. We learn how and forget why. We stop creating the future and start repeating the past."

Unfortunately, I think many of us in ministry are prone to this danger. We fall prey to the inertia of a sort of 'ministry muscle memory'. Instead of working to build new muscle, we've lived through the 'annual cycle' of church life so many times that ministry is at least partially automated; we just show up and do it all again. We've learned how and forgotten why.

I'll explore some of these later, but for now, here's a list of thoughts about why this may be the case: (please add to it in the comments section)

- Disconnection from God - If we are not extremely intentional about spending time with the Creator who crafted us for ministry in the first place, our imagination and creativity will suffer. He's the source of creativity.

- Being Tired (or Lazy) - Sometimes, it's just easier to brush of an old message than to wrestle with a new one.

- Misunderstanding of Leadership - For some, leadership in ministry is tantamount to preserving the past. Imagination is needed to pioneer - but maybe not so necessary to maintain the status quo.

- Past Success vs. an Uncertain Future - If a particular part of our ministry has gone over well, it's tempting to not fix what isn't broken. The logic is sound. But what if my ministry now needs a rocket instead of my good-enough-as-it-is bike to get where God is leading?

- Painful Circumstances - Hurting people hurt other people. In ministry, often hurting people hurt us. Church splits, miscommunicated messages, death or illness... these things hurt church leaders deeply and when we hurt, it's comforting to lean back into familiar territory - to rest in places we already know are safe.

- Given up Hope - When it seems like things just aren't going the way we'd hoped, it's tough to muster up the energy it takes to move from imagination to action. God may be filling our imaginations with great ideas, but when we give up the hope of Him carrying them out, it becomes too exhausting and we slip into cruise control.

- Keeping up Appearances - Let's admit it, churches play the Joneses game, too. When the church down the road gets a new, flashy sign, suddenly our little nameplate isn't quite as impressive. Instead of imagination, we simply copy someone else's because it worked for them.

Over the next week or so, I'd like to dig into each of these a little bit on an individual basis. Maybe you have other reasons you've seen yourself or others slip into memory mode. I'd love to have your input here and get some good discussion going as to why this happens and what we can do to more effectively engage our imaginations in doing what God has called us to do.

So, what do you think?
*I know that some of you who read this may not really be that comfortable in the online world - maybe this is a good time to stretch yourself and jump into the dialogue... Use the "comments" link below to leave your thoughts.

Friday, December 05, 2008

"Eyes of a Child" sermon via wordle

Just for fun, I put the text of my sermon notes in @ wordle.net and this is how it turned out. (You may have to click on it to get a decent size view.)

Advent Conspiracy

It seems like I often get frustrated this time of year. It's not the lines or the traffic. It's not the cold or the snow. It's not even the way people celebrate a day of presents and family.

I get frustrated when I see the church being snared in the trap of thinking we'll be happier with more stuff. Or even that someone else will be happier if we just get them the right gift. How easily we/I forget that 'stuff' is not what Christmas is about. I really appreciate the reminder that these guys at Advent Conspiracy are putting out there.

Worship Fully. Spend Less. Give More. Love All.

Make sure this Christmas means something.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

At the Crossroads 1.3

I was reading Jeremiah 24 this morning and noticed what might seem unusual. Put yourself in Jeremiah's beard for a minute and imagine how strange this message must have seemed. He has been warning of the calamity that is going to come upon the people.

"If we don't repent, our nation will be destroyed by God." This is the basic gist of his message to his countrymen - a message they mostly ignore. And then it begins. For years he has been warning God's chosen people and now they're reaping the consequences of refusing to heed his warnings. Babylon has dragged off many of the people into slavery.

Now, if I'm living in a conquered nation, some of my countrymen are taken prisoner, but I'm left at home - I'm thinking about how fortunate I am to have been spared. Many in Judah were probably in that same state of mind. "Nebuchadnezzar has spared us! He's left us alone... or maybe he's not strong enough to take us all... We're survivors!"

But God had a little different viewpoint of these "survivors". "Like the rotten figs, so rotten they can't be eaten, is Zedekiah king of Judah. Rotten figs - that's how I'll treat him and his leaders, along with the survivors here and those down in Egypt." God was going to let them rot and die - cleansing the land of all of them!

The exiles, however, "are like the good figs, and I'll make sure they get good treatment. I'll keep my eye on them so that their lives are good , and I'll bring them back to this land. I'll build them up, not tear them down; I'll plant them, not uproot them. And I'll give them a heart to know me, God. They'll be my people and I'll be their God, for they'll have returned to me with all their hearts."

The people who seemed to be in pretty crappy conditions (slavery isn't that pleasant, I'm sure you'd agree) would be the ones coming out on the other side. The ones who seemed to have no hope for tomorrow would be the ones with a future with God because He used the circumstances to raise their desire to know Him.

I wonder if that's going on today? I wonder if the church has drifted from the heart of God. Have we allowed buildings and budgets and crowds and programs to become idols that have twisted our hearts away from God's loving hands? What would an "exile" of God's people look like today? What will it take to be given "a heart to know God" - to be His people?

It will take us realizing that He is the only One.

All of what we think we need is nothing.

"Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it..."

See you at the crossroads.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Eyes of a Child

This should have been a much simpler process. I wanted to post the audio from my sermon here, but had problems finding a way to get it done. Thanks to Google Gadgets, I found a way I thought would work, but then had issues getting the mp3 onto our server. I think I've got it done now, so here you go... (I hope.)

The sermon didn't come out (of my mouth) quite like I was hoping. Instead of a sort of quick, whimsical, childlike tone (if that makes any sense at all) - a video played right before the sermon got me in a different state of mind (which probably wasn't a bad thing).

Basically, I went through Mark 8:27-10:52, pointing out some of Jesus' interactions with his disciples and how he was trying to expand their view of what his kingdom really is. Sometimes, they just didn't get it. Sometimes, we still don't. Blinded by our desire for control or for our 'team' to dominate, or by our shame - we miss the beauty of God's Kingdom come here to earth.

But if we're called by God to live as citizens of this kingdom, there must be a way to see more clearly. Jesus suggested to the disciples that they needed to receive it like children. If we are going to be able to enter an unseen kingdom, we need to learn to look for it with the eyes of a child. Eyes that are curious and full of wonder. Eyes that can "see in the dark". Eyes that can see the whole kingdom, not just "our" little slice.

We need eyes that see who Jesus really is.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Decisions, decisions...

A few weeks ago, Willie asked me to preach this Sunday while he was gone to Hawaii. Who really goes to Hawaii for Thanksgiving anyway? I can't imagine substituting sand for stuffing, but whatever... Anyway, I had a pretty good idea what I was going to talk about. I basically had been 'percolating' on the idea for about 2 weeks, then decided to change directions. Now, I'm rethinking the second direction, but not really wanting to go back to the first. Second guessing is so much fun!

It's a lot easier to decide what to preach when you do it every week.

Thursday, November 20, 2008


I'm messing with the idea of altering the format of this blog. I may have some frequent changes over the next week or so as I test-drive a few different things. Let me know what you think... or if there are features you'd like to see here. Sorry in advance if this experiment causes something to be lost that you just can't live without.

At the Crossroads 1.2

Last night at youth group, a ping pong ball got broken. I know, right... Huge traumatic deal! Ok, maybe not such a big deal. The thing is, a girl came asking me for a ball because they couldn't find one. I asked the kids who I knew had been playing ping pong last if they remembered where they put the ball when they were done. "We don't have it."

"I know you don't have it, but do you know where it is."


"Where did you leave it?" (Knowing that ping pong balls don't generally go biped and walk off, I thought this was a pretty good question.)

"We didn't do anything."

"I didn't accuse you of doing anything."


...more silence

"We broke it."

Actually the confession was more like "We were hitting it and it broke all by itself." but the bottom line is the ping pong ball was toast.

Having no emotional attachment to the ping pong ball, I went to my office and got out a new one. No big deal. What is a big deal though is the way we try to cover up our secrets with lies. As soon as I asked about the ball, the boy got defensive and lied to me. Over a ping pong ball!

This is nothing new. Adam hid from God in the garden. Cain claimed ignorance of his brother's location even as he knew Abel's body lay right where he took the life from it. David covered up the theft of his neighbor's wife with a sneaky plan. When that didn't work, he made sure Urriah wouldn't live to know the truth. Ananias and Saphira lied to the apostles to cover up previous dishonesty.

At the crossroads, there is no room for hiding. Here, you must stand out in the open before God and bare your soul to Him. If there is any hope of finding your way (and there is), it requires you to show yourself. To openly place yourself in the hands that have so wonderfully made you. Hands that already know you.

Check out Psalm 39. Go ahead, read what you find at that link, then come back and answer these questions.

What are you trying to hide from God? How is that affecting your relationship with Him?

"Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it..."

See you at the crossroads.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

At the Crossroads 1.1

I've started a series of devotions for my students that I post on our student ministry blog. Thought I'd share them here, too, with a little adaptation if necessary.

I'm going to start posting some devotional thoughts here each week to encourage you to move your faith out of the walls of our regular youth group events/activities. There will be some thoughts, scriptures, and prayers for you to think about as you go through your week. Use the comments section to discuss and question - I'll reply as quickly as I can, and feel free to reply to each other. Here's the first edition of "At the Crossroads"...
Last night, we talked about paying attention to God. Now that I think about, I talk about paying attention to God a lot. Have you ever wondered why I harp on that subject so much?
Is it because I don't think you're paying enough attention to God? Maybe, in part. Imagine someone from another planet spends a day observing you to see what's most important to you - to find out what drives you, what guides your choices. What would they see? How do you fill your time? What is it that you just "can't miss"?
My guess is that our outside observer, based on how you spend your day, would not come to the conclusion that your Creator is most important to you. So maybe I talk so much about paying attention to God because I don't think you do enough of it.
But to be fair, you're not the only one. I find my own days filling themselves with a lot of stuff that's not necessarily putting God first. Just today, I've dropped my kids off at school, moved some stuff around in our backyard, made a quick check on facebook, took Marshall to pick up his phone when I went to get the trailer hooked up for the trip to Turning Point tomorrow, and worked on this devotion. But I have to admit, I haven't really stopped to hear the heartbeat of God today.
It's a constant struggle to give our Maker the attention He deserves from us. But it's a struggle worth fighting. Whatever you have planned right now... put it off. Go spend some time alone with God. Listen to Him. "Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it..."

I'll see you at the crossroads.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Promo for Spring Event

We have an area youth rally each spring that we rotate between a few churches. This year, we're hosting, so I did a promo video. Let me know what you think... I'm still learning my new program. And if you're looking for something for your teens this April, I'll get you the details so you can join us.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Election Reflections

A random assortment of thoughts from last night:

> Watching states get "called" for one candidate or another, I was impressed with the networks' ability to assimilate so much data so quickly that they could extrapolate the outcome from very small percentages of actually counted votes. Like when Vermont was called with ZERO precincts reporting. (Read that with as much deadpan sarcasm as you'd like.)

> It wouldn't make a difference in the outcome of this election, but does it still make sense to choose a president using the electoral college rather than popular vote? Then again, would the popular majority method just lead to candidates focusing on a few key cities rather than a few key states?

> This election has taken far too long and cost way too much. I wonder if it would be a good idea to limit the time frame in which a prospective candidate can campaign and the amount of money they can use to do so?

> Now that Obama has been elected, how will his opponents respond? A lot of accusations have been made - some with more credence than others. But in a couple months, he will be the President of the United States of America. Will those who didn't want him as President, submit to the authority of the office?

> Will there be any real change in the way the political machine of our nation operates?

> Watching Obama speak last night, there was a conflicted mix in my mind. Race alone cannot stop someone in our nation from achieving whatever their abilities will allow them to achieve. Several generations ago, Obama would have been considered 3/5ths of a person (or even less) when it came to politics; now he will be at the pinnacle of American political heap. That is real change, brought on over the last several decades, that America can be proud of. But it does concern me that the leader of our nation will now be leaning further left than any previous occupant of the White House. It will be interesting to say the least to see how Obama will actually lead. What will happen to his popularity when he has to start making and taking the tough calls of the presidency?

> I appreciated the tenor of Obama's speech last night. (Actually much of what he said would be heralded by the right had it been said by someone from the right.) With the huge crowd gathered around him, it would have been easy to work them up into a victory hype like we've never seen before. Instead of absorbing all the energy of his crowd and accepting their worship (which many people seem more than willing to give), he thanked his people, and reminded them that there is work to do to re-establish a sense of unity among the people of the United States.

I know a lot of my friends are up in arms about Obama. From socialist to Marxist to clandestine Muslim out to rot America from the inside out to being the AntiChrist out to overturn God's world order - I've heard all those ideas. I just can't buy into them. But he's not the savior of the American people either. That office is permanently filled by one who will never campaign. He just is. Let's make sure we don't forget where our true hope lies.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Don't Give Up...

Some people call me patient. Some have credited me with perseverance and even longsuffering. The truth may be, however, that I'm just too stubborn to know when to quit!

Whatever the correct viewpoint of that issue, I do think we could all use a little more tenacity. The attitude of "This is what we're here for, and we will not quit." I remember as a kid, whenever we signed up for something like a sport or ongoing activity... we were in it until 'it' was done. I loved playing football as a kid. I was little and quick and hard to tackle. So my freshman year, I went out for football. 'Little and quick' becomes 'small and easy to throw around' when you strap on a helmet and half your bodyweight in pads. As a wide reciever with a team that threw about 6 passes all year, I didn't enjoy football. Not even a little. It wasn't fun anymore, and it was a lot of work. But I signed on to play and quitting wasn't an option, so I had to stick it out until the end of the season. I was rewarded with a grand total of 1 reception for about 45 yards (the only ball thrown to me all year - a 4 yard slant with about 40 yards of "run for your life" tacked on at the end).

Too many people have learned to quit when things get hard. If life is all about you being happy, and something is more work than it's worth? Quit. Your relationship is a mess? Quit. Your boss is a jerk? Quit. School is too hard? Hey you're old enough now, just quit. (You can go to work for someone else's jerky boss, because they just quit, too and said boss has an opening!)

Even in the church, there can be the thinking that if something is too difficult, it must not be what God wants. Because, God always opens the door, ya know... or at least a window. He paves the way ahead of us to accomplish what we want, right? The truth is that sometimes, God closes the door, boards up the window, latches the deadbolt and says, "Come on in." Jesus didn't tell people it was going to be easy to follow him. He told them it was going to be hard. He told them they'd be hated. And he said, "Follow me".

Have you ever noticed in Psalm 23 that as David is following God's guidance on the "right paths/ paths of righteousness" he ends up walking through "the valley of the shadow of death" to a table that God had prepared for him right in the middle of those who would kill him? Following God isn't safe. It isn't easy. It demands that we don't quit.

Two recent "little things" have been very encouraging to me in the last week in areas where I was pretty much ready to quit:

I haven't done really well with this blog lately. I don't feel the freedom to say what I really want to say, so I just haven't said much of anything. I'd really like this blog to serve as a catalyst for conversation, but that hasn't always seemed to happen. So, I've kind of just let the blog slide under the pile of 'stuff to do' lately, wondering if it's worth the effort. An anonymous comment last week about a difference that something I'd written several months ago (thanks google) had made in someone's life reminded me that sometimes you just don't know what God's going to do with your offering - you just need to give it.

Another ministry opportunity that had felt more draining than useful lately is the radio show that I do once a month - "The Cutting Edge". The station (KCMI) desired to have a show on Saturday nights that would be an outreach to area teens - playing music that's a little more 'spicy' than their general fare. Several area youth ministers come in with a few students and run the station for a few hours, rotating each week. With input from various sources, the station asked us (actually I think the only one they really had to tell was me) to tone down the tenor of the music (i.e. no more hardcore on "The Cutting Edge"). I don't like hardcore, but I know a lot of the teens in the area that we'd like to reach do. This was/is frustrating to me, and coupled with a wonder about whether or not anyone was really listenning - I was ready to quit. But last Saturday night was one of the best nights for me at the show in the year and a half that we've done it. I spent a few hours hanging out in the studio with 3 great kids (even though they begged for a Veggie Tales song), played a lot of good music, and had a lot of callers.

I guess all of this is just to say "Don't give up." You can't see the end yet, and if you quit, you'll never know.

Monday, October 13, 2008

How is this a "safe haven"?

In Hurt Chap Clark outlines how society is sytemmatically abandoning young people.

This article and other recent ones like it provide concrete examples of just how little we, as a culture, value kids. "A Michigan mother drove roughly 12 hours to Omaha so she could abandon her 13-year-old son at a hospital under the state's unique safe-haven law, Nebraska officials said Monday." (It's 'unique' in that lawmakers failed to define that "infants" may be left at a safe haven location as perhaps every other state has done; instead stating that parents may leave their "children" with no age qualifier.)

I know the intent of Safe Haven Laws is to give mothers in crisis situations a way to provide their infants with a better alternative than being aborted, neglected, or abused. And I hope that my state will act quickly to correct the wording of this legislation. But this all leaves me with a lot of questions...

What kind of society has to make laws about which children can be legally abandoned?
How have families become so broken that parents feel they have no choice but to dump off their progeny on complete strangers?
Where is the church for these people?
Can we come up with some more hopeful alternatives?

First Act Of Service

We had a good time of prayer last night with a handful of high school students. We've just finished going through the book of Titus, where Paul concludes with the need for the church to be devoted to "doing what is good, in order to provide for urgent needs and not live unproductive lives". I wanted to do something tangible together as an expression of our desire to do what is good.

The typical raking, cleaning, physical service projects came to mind, but I wanted to start somewhere less traveled. I think prayer is an often overlooked mode of service, so I decided to spend the time we had together doing just that. I put several topics in a hat - each of our staff members, our leadership team of staff and elders, friends, outreach to our community & schools, White Water Christian Church, national leaders, parents, etc. One of us would pull a topic out of the hat, we'd discuss how we could be praying for that particular issue or person, then that student would pray.

My hope is that they would continue to think about and pray for these matters as kind of a 'first act of service'. As we seek to meet needs, may we be reminded that there is really only One who can meet the most important.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Of skies and falling...

Is it really THE most important election in our nation's history? (And haven't I heard that before?)
Is the future of our nation really at stake?
If 'the liberals' win, are we really at the threshold of our national demise?

I wouldn't say that it doesn't matter at all who wins, but I'm just not ready to say the wrong choice will be our last. I don't think our country is what it is today (positively and negatively) because of who has and has not been our president. Nor do I don't think our national tomorrow is dictated by who wins the upcoming election. We are a nation that is shaped, more than any other, "by the people".

A great nation has been forged by the will of the people to pursue life, liberty, and happiness - not simply by having great men in the presidency.

Our banks aren't failing because of Bush's economic policies. Actually stronger links have been made to a Carter decision, which was morphed by Clinton into federal prodding of banks to make loans to unqualified applicants. But even those policies aren't completely to blame. We're in an economic mess because of our national greed. Our appetite for more and better no matter the cost has led us to an empty trough. Our capacity for spending enormous amounts of money that we don't have via our own personal decks of credit cards has finally brought the house down.

The presidency is an important position. But if your candidate doesn't make it... it's not the end of the world. God is still God, and maybe a bad choice will lead His church to wake up and behave more like His Son than ever before.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Producers 3

"Making Donuts" follow up #3

"Our people must learn to devote themselves to doing what is good, in order to provide for urgent needs and not live unproductive lives."
Back in May, our students held a talent show we called the Biteback benefit. Sam had been wanting to do a talent show for some time and when I heard about Compassion's BiteBack ministry, it seemed like a good fit. We had a fun night with quite a few families coming to watch - and raising about $600 to stop kids from gettting malaria.

It was a simple thing.
It really wasn't difficult.
But it was productive.

God gave our kids here a lot of different talents. We had everything from pole vaulting to singing and dancing... and a lot of stuff in between. The talents were entertaining and the generosity of the audience met an urgent need for 60 families in Africa.

But not all talents lend themselves well to a talent show/benefit. I believe though, that all talents are given to benefit others. If we're committed to doing what is good, Christ will live in us a productive life meeting the needs of the people who surround us everyday. Make sure you're keeping your eyes open for those needs around you - and use your talents to meet them.

On a related note: I put new brake pads on my wife's van yesterday. I've never done this before, but I knew the pads were worn down and I didn't want to pay through the nose to get the brakes done. (Local estimates started at $150 - one place wouldn't even give a ballpark price without me paying $35 for an inspection.) So for about $30 I bought new pads and a c-clamp, and replaced the pads myself. (No mom, the rotors are not warped or grooved - they're still safe.) I was kind of surprised at how easy it was and I got to thinking about hundreds of people who pay for automotive stuff (or just ignore maintenance issues) because they don't know that they can do it themselves. I'd like to put together a mechanically inclined team to teach some basics to our students (even stuff like changing a tire and oil and filters and spark plugs) by doing some basic maintenance on cars that need it. If you'd like to help, or learn, or if you have a car that could use some attention give me a call and let's see if we can be productive together.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Producers 2

"Making Donuts" follow up #2

"Our people must learn to devote themselves to doing what is good, in order to provide for urgent needs and not live unproductive lives."
A couple years ago, I was feeling like lots of stuff was bottled up inside me that wanted out. I thought painting might be a good outlet/release. I'm the kind of person who can't draw a straight line without a ruler and art as it's usually thought of has never been my forte. A wood planter I made in 8th Grade ended up as a pencil holder - but that was better than the clay pottery bowl that became grandpa's ashtray/coin cup. (Don't ask.)

I'm not sure I've ever really painted anything, so I'm not sure where the desire to paint was coming from. My mom made me do fingerpaints with my brother once, but I'm way too tactilly defensive for that I guess. Seriously, have you felt that stuff squishing between your digits? And for some reason, the fingerpaint smell has always made me gag. So naturally, with my newfound desire to paint and a little Christmas money I bought a paint set and a couple brushes and some little canvas boards to start out with.

I still haven't painted anything. The set is in the woefully misnomered 'work'shop in our back yard. Sad.

How often do we bottle up the creativity God's placed within us?

A friend of mine who is the worship leader here at WestWay recently uncorked. He's an insanely gifted musician and has been leading worship about 10 years or so. Actually, I remember him playing drums for worship back when churches didn't allow drums... a bit more than 10 years ago! So he collaborated with some friends with the equipment & talent to pull the project together, and released a CD of music he's written for worship over that time. It's fun to hear people commenting on how they've enjoyed or been touched by what he's allowed to bubble up. (You can hear some of Shane's music here and buy the CD as well.) When we release the God given creativity within us, He is producing tools that will benefit those around us.

Got a CD in you? A painting? Books or stories?

What is it that's building pressure?

Let it out.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Producers 1

*This post is the first of a few of follow ups to last week's "Making Donuts" post.

"Our people must learn to devote themselves to doing what is good, in order to provide for urgent needs and not live unproductive lives."
Last Sunday, I got to take a group from WestWay to a new church plant's launch service over in Laramie. The church plant is a great example of people who are making sure they're not living unproductive lives. Church planting itself is always exciting to me, but this plant in particular has some extra interest due to several factors:

1) It is in Wyoming, where I grew up. Many churches in WY seem to struggle (both with external, 'hard soil' issues and internal, 'stuck in a rut we created' issues) so it's exciting to see this new endeavor taking shape. I haven't lived in WY since I left for college almost 15 years ago, but I still have a heart for the church in WY.

2) My parents and brother are a part of the plant team. After 15 years in one place (which is by far a record) my dad closed his counseling center, sold his buildings and has moved the family. (The house has not sold yet, so if anyone is looking to move to Cody, WY let me know!) He and my brother have been playing with the worship band - with mom back at the sound board. I love that my parents are still willing to jump over the edge into another adventure with God. "Always try new things." right Brian?

3) WestWay is one of the supporting churches. Our people have been praying for the church plant. I'm hoping the close proximity and connections we'll develop will breed an excitement among us at what God can do through new church work and that their innovative approach will provide the "old dogs" of the area some new tricks to learn. Also, though we'll miss him and his guitar being on our stage, it was great to see Adam leading worship in Laramie and exciting to see him grow in his role in ministry there.

4) The church is making adventurous living a part of their DNA. As a new church, there is no pattern of placation to follow. They are there to take a new trail as God leads. This may lead them to make decisions that most churches cannot or will not make. Even their name is a reflection of this spirit of adventure: White Water Christian Church.

Things seem to be beginnning well for White Water. At the service, a lady and a couple early teen boys were sitting behind us. During a moment of introduction after some upbeat songs, the boys commented that they were surprised by seeing "that many people having fun... at church." Church doesn't have to be boring... Happy Birthday White Water. I'm excited to see God continue to work in you and your community as you live productive lives.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Interesting New Resource

"Time to Make the Donuts"

When I was a kid, my dad owned a bakery. About that same time Dunkin' Donuts came out with an ad campaign where a sleepy guy stumbled about in the dark or through the snow and ice because it was "time to make the donuts." Commitment to doing what must be done. I remember wanting to wake up early and go to work with my dad - but I just couldn't drag myself out of bed at 3 or 4 in the morning. I liked to eat donuts (understatement), but I wasn't committed to making them. As cheesy as it may sound, I think in the church today, it's "time to make some donuts".

"Our people must learn to devote themselves to doing what is good, in order to provide for urgent needs and not live unproductive lives."

These words from Paul to Titus provide a strong directive for the church today. Maybe it's just a Western issue, where wealth has lulled us into complacency - but it seems that a lot of us are much better consumers than producers.
I buy all my clothes...
I buy all my food...
I buy cars and books and windows and shinguards...

But what do I produce? What exists because I made it? I'm not talking about some "look what I did and pat me on the back" kind of production, but about a natural outpouring of creative activity that benefits others. The same Spirit that lives in me is the one who hovered over the waters in that instant before "Let there be light." and "Let us make man in our image." God instructed the first people to "be fruitful". We are intended to be creatively productive - not passively consumptive. (It's interesting that the word 'consumptive' has to do with consuming food or drink OR being afflicted by a disease like tuberculosis where you physically waste away.)

I'm challenging my students over the next several weeks to be more productive in their spiritual lives, but I'm also being challenged myself. The Spirit within us who are in Christ is an active Spirit. He wants to do something. I wonder if "quenching the Spirit" has a lot to do with stifling His work in our lives in order to simply consume the religious morsels set before us?

Friday, September 05, 2008

Have we settled for less?

I don't read a lot of fiction, but I read The Shack a couple weeks ago, and a review on Relevant Magazine's site caught my eye. (If you haven't read the book, the review gives a good synopsis - without playing the spoiler role.) I enjoyed the book and the way it made me think about how I relate and pray and converse and commune with God. The last line of the review really stood out to me: "Before Scripture, God was felt, talked about and experienced by people."
Shouldn't the same be true to a people who have Scripture? Even more so, given our written advantage? But too often Scripture has been made into some kind of quasi-idol. We're taught to read our Bibles and pray, but do we learn to really talk with God and talk about God? Do we really experience His presence? Do we teach our kids how to "feel" God?

It seems simpler to memorize verses and recite 4 points from a tract. I learned very early in my church upbringing how to spit out the right answers. Many kids do. But in conversations with friends and co-workers, I wasn't being asked the same questions! Outside the walls of church, my list of answers was insufficient - maybe even insignificant.

It's risky to start talking about the feeling and experiencing of God outside the black and white and red-lettered bounds our rational minds have become so accustomed to. People may fear that we've opened doors to the spiritual world that are better left closed... Feelings may trick us. A touchy-feely gospel may leave too much wiggle room for sin. But as I see Jesus (in Scripture, mind you) I see someone willing to risk. He had a message of His Father's grace to share with humanity and risked everything to bring it. As His Ambassadors now, do we have that same will to risk and bias to act? I believe that if we do, the richness of relationship with our Creator awaits.

My prayer is that today, as in the past, "God is felt, talked about and experienced by people".

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Do Not Hinder Them

I was listening yesterday to this message from Chap Clark of Fuller Youth Institute (formerly known as the Center for Youth and Family Ministry). I can't get the audio to post right, but if you're involved in youth ministry or any kind of leadership of the church you should follow that link and listen.

Clark does a good job of detailing how youth ministry as usual just isn't a healthy way to develop young disciples and offers a better way of assimilating young people into the life of the church. Traditional youth ministry does a much better job of connecting lots of students with the youth group than connecting them with Jesus and His Body. It's time for new benchmarks for success. (Actually it's way past time.) I mean, how hard is it really to get a kid to connect with a bunch of his peers? We need refuse the complacency that often comes with shiny, well attended programs... we need to go deeper.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Josiah Generation

I really like the story of Josiah. I don't know how it really works out to be king at 8 years old, but I love what happens when Josiah is 16. 2 Chronicles 34 talks about how eight years into his reign, "while he was still young, he began to seek the God of his father David."

I wonder why? What was going on in his kingdom that led him to seek God? Grandpa and dad had both been kings who "did evil" in God's eyes, so what was different about Josiah? What freed him from their cycle of self-serving idol worship?

The spiritual climate students live in today may not be all that different from the cultural religion of Josiah's day. Plently of idols to choose from, lots of god-options to 'play with', cultural approval of evil. But Josiah chose something different. At the age of 16, he shunned the gods his family had adopted from the surrounding nations in order to seek David's God. At 20, he "began to purge Judah and Jerusalem" of the elements of worship to the false gods. Then at 26, he set out to restore the Temple and reacquaint his nation with the one true God who'd rescued them so many times before.

My prayer for students is that they'd be like Josiah and seek the God of David. I see many kids who have no idea who He is. Kids who've never even thought of the church as a point of contact with their Creator. Some of these have never been a part of the church, but some have grown up in the midst of God's people, yet failed to meet Him.

How are we missing like this? What idols are we substituting, even in the church, into God's place? It's interesting that even without the Scriptures, Josiah's heart longed for someone more than the false gods that surrounded Him. If the church is not holding up our Creator God who longs to rescue every heart that beats, then what are we doing? What will cause our young people to seek God like Josiah did?

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Inquiring Minds...

If 'liberate' means something is set free, what happens when I deliberate?

Tuesday, August 19, 2008


We got back Sunday night from a trip to Auburn. I did a wedding on Friday night (8-08-08) for a couple of my former students, so we left here on Thursday the 7th. Since I had another wedding on the 16th for another couple of my former students in the same area, we decided to use some vacation time and just stay out there for the week. I swear, moms, that I did not provoke them to marrying. We never played spin the bottle at youth group or anything like that...

Both weddings went well (which means that they're married, the mothers of the brides still have hair that has not been pulled out, and so do I) and we were ther for worship services both weeks. It was nice to see old friends and so many of my former students. The church seems to be doing really well and the new minister is a great guy. The regular guitar player was out of town the second week, so they asked me to lead worship. It was a blast to be doing that again.

On Monday we went up to Omaha and met Dave and Janice (who were celebrating a 1 year anniversary of a wedding which I did not incite, but enjoyed attending) for lunch. We were going to go to the art museum with them, but discovered it was closed. Apparently Monday is 'closed-museum' day. Who goes to the museum with 4 kids under 8 anyway?

We stayed in Omaha and Tuesday was Zoo Day. The Lincoln Children's Museum was our destination on Wednesday, and we got to meet Cady for lunch.

I know they say you can never go home again, but it was a great visit to a body that became as much a church home as I've ever had. I'm grateful for the reminder of what can happen when people make themselves available to the shaping hand of The Creative God.

Monday, August 04, 2008


A few years ago I read Jim Cymbala's Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire. I remember being impacted by the thought of what God could do if we, the church, would really humble ourselves and seek Him in prayer. I started reading the book again the other day and I'm still convicted of the same thing: the church, in large part, doesn't live a very full life when it comes to prayer.

Our prayer, too often, seems weak or even contrived. We pray because we're 'supposed' to pray - at meals, at bedtime, at church... We pray when we want something. But do we "pray continually"? Do we pray just so we can talk with God? Do we spend time praying just to hear His Voice?

After Solomon had the Temple built in Jerusalem, listen to what God told him. "When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among my people, if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land. Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayers offered in this place. I have chosen and consecrated this temple so that my Name may be there forever. My eyes and my heart will always be there." (2 Chronicles 7:13-16)

The eyes and heart of our Creator live where the prayers of His people are offered. If I'm not feeling very "in touch" with the heart of God, the first place I should look is at my inner life. Am I a person of prayer? Am I living a life that is characterized by a constant conversation with God? Only then will I be able to see the way He sees. Only then will I be able to love the way He loves.

A couple lines from my prayer journal last month asked God to "blow a fresh wind of Life into these bones." "I'm tired of feeling burned. Can I have some new life?" Shortly after those entries, I became acutely aware of the lack of depth to the level of intimacy in my relationship with God. In a worship time at camp, at HeavenFest, and in this book, I'm hearing God's answer: "Pray... Listen for Me... Stay with Me..."

It's been a good reminder. Maybe you needed it to. Seek the Face of our Father. Let Him do what only He can do.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

A Thing That Made Me Go "Hmm?"

“Lord - Protect my family and me. Forgive me my sins, and help me guard against pride and despair. Give me the wisdom to do what is right and just. And make me an instrument of your will.”

A simple prayer. Protection... Forgiveness... Humility and Hope... Wisdom... Willingness... It's a prayer not too different from many I have prayed myself.

But a lot of people are upset about this particular prayer. Not so much the words it contains, but the source of these words. The prayer was actually taken out of a crevice in the Western Wall in Jerusalem. It had been placed there last week by Barak Obama while he toured the region.

Whatever your politics are, this raises a lot of questions:
Does the prayer tell us anything about what's really going on in the heart and mind of the Presidential nominee?
Why would a Jewish seminary student think it was ok in this situation to take someone else's prayer out of the wall?
Should the world really be privvy to private conversations with God?
Will this change any conservative Christian minds about who Barak Obama really is?
What is it that causes so many to be so skeptical of his motives/intentions/abilities?
Was this simply a strategic way to appear more spiritually minded?

What do you think?

Monday, July 28, 2008

Pay attention...

This has been a pretty crappy summer. Kids were sick, LuAnn got sick, the basement flooded, LuAnn got E.Coli (went septic and had blood pressure low enough to scrape the pavement) and a kidney stone, my race car got wrecked... and it's not even August yet! It seems like every time one thing gets better, something else is smashed to pieces. It's been really discouraging.

I had to miss Jr. High camp alltogether and most of High School camp. By last Wednesday, LuAnn was feeling enough better that I went up for the last full day of camp. The worship time was very encouraging (thanks Adam - who is, by the way, soon leaving for the planting of Whitewater Christian Church and would be a great recipient of some of your mission-giving budget). I was struck by how my level of intimacy with God has suffered over the past couple years and how that's affected everything else in my life. My ministry is weaker, my inner life is pretty 'scattered', my ability to develop deeper connections with students has deteriorated...

After coming home from camp, about a dozen of us got up Saturday morning and left for Denver to go to Heavenfest. I'll try to post more about this later, but to sum it all up - it was awesome! More than a typical music festival, it was a time of artful worship. Over 12,000 people there, with 70 some bands, but what mattered most was that the 1 God was there.

After this great weekend, I was trying to distill some thoughts for a short newsletter article this morning. Here's the summary of what I've been chewing on this weekend:

Have you ever forgotten that God still speaks? It’s easy to become so preoccupied with the everyday activity of life that we forget to pay attention to God. When we simply meander through life from one task to the next, we miss the real details of life… we miss God.

Like me, maybe you need to be reminded that God is still speaking. He’s still desiring to commune with us. Maybe you need to get out of the habits that are deafening you to the Voice that created you. Maybe, like me, you need to form new habits that heighten your perception of God – that draw your attention to Him.

Thank God for His patience with us. His grace and mercy continue, even when we’re too busy to notice. Stop. Notice. Listen.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008


A snippet of today's lunchtime conversation:

Josiah: What are humans made of?

Emily and Dakota (in a creepy kind of unison): MEAT!

Should I worry?

I just graduated preschool - I wanna be a cannibal when I grow up!

Tuesday, July 01, 2008


"...eventually you have to stop thinking about it, dreaming about it, imagining it, hoping, scheming, planning, or even praying, and you have to actually do something. You have to act. You have to execute. You have to step into the real world and bring the change that you can only see through the eyes of faith." -from Erwin McManus' Wide Awake

I've always been a bit of a dreamer. I can see things better than they are. But sometimes I feel powerless to move them from what is to what could be. Lately, I've seen a lot of what could be happening but isn't - a lot of potential lying dormant. But instead of creatively leading forward, I've been frustrated into cynicism.

One of my favorite concepts in physics is the transformation of potential energy into kinetic energy. An object sitting around has potential energy. Even though it's just there, not accomplishing anything, there is potential energy. It's measurable. But it's only potential. The energy is not useful until it's made kinetic - until it's set in motion. Our dreams of a better future are like that. Unless we set them in motion, they are worthless to the world. Set something in motion today.

A dream deferred eventually becomes a weed of despair instead of the seed of hope God planted.

Monday, June 23, 2008

The atttitude of Jesus

I've asked my students to write a short essay on living with Jesus' attitude, so I thought I'd post an example of what I'm looking for (this is on the short side of what's assigned, but it's enough to get the idea):

"What does it mean for me to live with the attitude of Jesus?" I suppose it means that as much as possible, my thoughts, feelings, reactions, etc. are His. It means that my perspective on life is seen through His eyes. I can tend to get a little cynical sometimes, my outlook a little bleak. Sometimes I see situations that are obviously messed up and doubt that there's anything I or anyone else can do to make them better. A lot of people don't really want to 'get well'. That can be very discouraging for me.

But when I have the attitude of Jesus, my perspective changes. Flickers of hope begin to melt away my cynicism. I come to understand that my job isn't to make things better, but to "awaken possibilities" within others - to take a spark of life near enough to them that they will be driven to seek out the Source of that Life.

This means that people are not seeking out me. It's not relationship with me that they need. They're looking beyond me, through me, to see the One whose attitude I reflect. And that's ok. Having Jesus' attitude means I don't want their attention to get stuck on me. I want to direct their attention to God, our Father. If that means being ignored and taken for granted, I can live with that. Jesus' attitude says, "Life is not about me."

Jesus set aside everything for the sake of others. He humbly laid down His right and privilege in order to serve humanity. If I'm going to have His attitude, I will be willing to do the same.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008


I got a link to this video in an e-mail from Joe, our children's pastor. This is a great idea, but more than that - it's a great statement of what God's doing in the lives of the church where this was filmed. How would you summarize your self/life in just a few words??? What would be your "cardboard testimony"?

Monday, June 09, 2008

Being Known

I've not posted much of anything lately. And the little bit that I have written here recently has been way on the 'lighter' side of content ~ I mean, "greener" bombs??? Come on...

It's not that I haven't had anything to say. I've actually had quite a few things that I wanted to write about lately (working with a summer intern, fixing my race car, visiting the art gallery, reading Dostoyevsky, new music, moments with students...). But whenever I begin to actually put the words together, I find myself insanely filtering what I want to say. Then I decide this distilled, nuetralized (or is neutered?) version of what's on my mind isn't really worth saying anyway. So I delete it and move on to something else.

(I'm fighting with myself right now even ~ finish the post or filter it then scrap it? I'll keep going and see what happens...)

I think this may just be a part of my tendency to question everything - especially myself. In that case, I'll just keep digging for answers, writing and deleting my way along. But it also may be some fear of something outside of me, looking into the part of me I put on display, and deciding they don't like what they see. When I started this blog, I was feeling pretty secure. I knew if anyone had a problem with what they found here, we could deal with it together. I had a confidence in what I had to say, even when difficult issues led me to say things I knew people didn't want to hear. I was known. I knew myself and felt like I was on firm enough footing to defend if I needed to.

I feel like all of that is missing now. I'm not known. I don't want to say what people who don't know me don't want to hear. (We're not very nice to people we don't know when they say things we don't want to hear, are we?) I feel like Jeremiah maybe, with a message to deliver that I don't really want to. But he couldn't keep it in, and I'm sure I can't either...

Not that I'm trying to stifle the message of God for the sake of my own security. Or maybe that's exactly what it is. Maybe I know deep inside that the masses of consumer christians don't want to hear the call to create and produce something in keeping with the faith they claim. Maybe I know within my soul that the herds will always value conformity above true beauty. Maybe I've just been listenning to too much Coldplay...

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Strange Headline

Scientists Design More Environmentally Friendly Bombs

It's nice to know we can take care of our planet without giving up our ability to cause massive chaos, destruction, and loss of life.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

"I Was Just Testing You"

Sitting on the couch with my son Josiah the other day, we had the following conversation:

Me: "I think you're about the funniest kid I know."
Siah: "So you won't ever throw me away?"
Me: "No, I would never throw you away!"
Siah: "What about Kota?"
Me: "Nope, I'd never throw him away either."
Siah: "Emmy?"
Me: "No."
Siah: "Lizzy?"
Me: "Nope."
Siah: "Mommy?"
Me: "No way."

Siah, after a long pause: "I was just testing you, dad."

Then he gave me a big 4-year-old hug - I guess I passed.

A Thought Provoking Quote

Eugene Peterson talks about Jonah going into Nineveh and becoming

"a pastor in this place - not to improve their religion and not to serve their religious needs but to subvert their religion, insinuate doubts into its validity, and then help them to deal in faith with a living God. 'Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown.' He didn't accuse them of being evil. He didn't denounce their sin and wickedness. He called into question their future. He introduced eschatology into their now-oriented religion, their security-obsessed present."

  • Meeting religious need
  • Improving religious experience
  • Identifying evil
  • Denouncing sin and wickedness
At first glance, this list doesn't seem all that insidious. Most pastors I know would affirm the validity of all of these practices in their own ministries. But a shallow, fickle flock is their end. There are veins we must explore that run deeper in the pastoral role than these. Tasks that sound much less 'pastoral' to today's churches. In youth ministry, they sound flat out scary:
  • Subverting religion
  • Insinuating doubts
  • Questioning the future
  • Re-orienting without an emphasis on 'now'
  • Embracing a dangerous way into the future
The first set of phrases is the most commonly embraced, but can lead to a brand of religious consumerism that is strangling many churches today... "We shouldn't sing this or that song." "Just keep faithful(ly doing the same thing we've been doing the last twenty years)." "What needs can we meet with our ministries (to each other)?"

The second set of phrases seems pretty shaky, but forces us to really think about what we believe and why we do the things we do. I want to develop a band of believers that isn't afraid to be questioned, who see beyond today's issues and struggles and will walk the difficult path into a better tomorrow. A people who are not merely coloring between the lines set before us, but who are creatively molding the colors and shapes into dynamic portrayals of God's faith, hope, and love for the world around us.

If you're a pastor, don't pander to the spirit of religious consumerism and job security. If you know me, help me keep out of that mentality, too. May we clearly see the face of the God we seek, and undeniably display Him wherever we are.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Will it Matter?

I really couldn't care less who is revealed soon as the next American Idol winner. I haven't ever really gotten into the show, but apparently it's come down to a couple guys named David. Every time I turn on the radio in my truck, they're talking about it. Every commercial break on whatever station the show is on includes a plug. It seems that somehow, the outcome of the contest is important to our nation - maybe even to the world. But I doubt that it is important at all and really don't care who wins.

What I want to know is, who actually votes? What kind of people actually don't have anything better to do than vote for another pop star? Thousands of people spend their time and money to cast their electronic ballot in this meaningless election. I heard one lady lamenting the fact that she just couldn't decide which David to vote for, so she split her votes between them equally, so that she'd helped to choose the winner! By that logic, I guess I contributed as much to tipping the scales one way or another as she did.

I don't know. Maybe I just don't get the hype. Maybe I'm hopelessly out of touch with all that is pop. It just seems a great waste to me.

Why do we spend so much time and money on things that don't matter?

Thursday, May 15, 2008

I Got a Birdie!

I'm not much of a golfer. I consider it a moral victory if I find more golf balls than I lose. Yesterday, I went golfing for the first time in about a year - not expecting great results. My scores were well above par (mostly above double-bogey), but I didn't lose a single ball in the water. I didn't lose a single ball in the weeds, or one in the trees. I did, however, lose one in a goose!

I teed up - picked out a lofty 4 wood to make sure to go high up and over the pond between me and the green. Stepped up to the ball. Drove said ball right into a herd of geese standing at the edge of the tee box. Feathers flew. Geese squawked (that is an oddly spelled word, isn't it!) and scurried (I don't know if geese actually scurry as much as they kind of flounder about in aimless confusion, but whatever...). And one little goose traded his entrails for my Titlist.

A moment of silence for the recently departed member of our feather gallery...

Thursday, May 08, 2008

BiteBack Benefit

Our talent show to raise money for Compassion's BiteBack program went pretty well last night. We raised just over $600. I was a little disappointed that we didn't have more of an audience, but this is the first time we've done anything like this. Maybe word will get out about how good it was and next time, we'll have more interest. The students did a really good job.

We had everything from pole vaulting to "A Whole New World" to a "Popular" song/skit to dance to train building (which was a favorite of the kids in the crowd) to video editing & several piano solos... We even had a McDonald's drive through for a few minutes! The two students who had the most stage time ended up leading the "vote count" with Teresa (dance, rap, piano, & vocals) just edging out Sam (piano, jokes, & MC). Thanks to every student who shared a talent and to those in the audience who generously "voted".

I was stressed with a number of last minute switches and glitches on the computer, but in the end, over 60 kids will soon be protected from malaria, so it was well worth it. We made a difference. And that was the point.
On a personal level, if you'd like to make even more of a difference to one child in particular, check out the link in my sidebar to sponsor a child through Compassion's child sponsorship.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Spring Up the Bluff

I hurt myself yesterday & I'm still in pain.
Not coerced.
Not an accident.
I willfully, intentionally, and voluntarily engaged in a painful endeavor.

Here in Scottsbluff is a wonderful little place we like to call Scotts Bluff National Monument. It's a nice place. A large bluff that overlooks the valley - great views. On a clear day you can even see Laramie Peak in WY.

Yesterday was not a clear day. Or maybe it was fairly clear, but I didn't notice because I wasn't there for the view. I was there for the annual Spring Up the Bluff relay run up to the top. (In a joke that's surely been made way too many times, we decided we should come back in October when they have the Fall Down the Bluff.) It's a pretty simple concept. You get 5 of your gullible buddies to agree to one leg (only about a quarter mile each) and the six of you pass the baton up the bluff.

We had about three problems, the first being gravity. It's not easy to run up a hill. The second was wind. It was windy in town yesterday. It was insanely windy on the bluff! Parts of the run were made uphill against the wind. The third problem was an insufficient number of runners on our team. 6 legs divided by 4 runners meant that two of us ran two legs in a row. Jon and Greg ran the first two legs, then after Scott made his way through the tunnel sections (which had to be the toughest) I did the last 2 legs.

The biggest problem I had though was my own inability to accept the imposed limits of my insufficiently conditioned physical mechanism. I took off at a full bore as soon as the baton was in my hand (I kept hearing the line from Hidalgo about the beginning of the race is just for show). Quickly realizing I had a long way to go, I told myself to ease up a bit. Unfortunately, my self did not listen to me and I kept running... hard.

As I neared the next handoff point, I became acutely aware of how ridiculous I was going to look running through without handing off. (Or maybe heroic if they thought I'd run the whole thing.) But the motor kept turning. I kept telling myself to slow down. Things became hazy around the edges. My self still didn't listen to me. My head pounded. I could feel my pulse in my cheek (which is kind of an odd sensation). And I kept running.

When I do this to myself, my lungs get pretty ticked off. They're the part of my body that kept saying "Slow down, moron!" It's not nice of my lungs to call me names like that, but I'll give them a little leeway since they've been so neglected and abused. So now, I'll spend a couple days sounding like I've been smoking for about 92 years. (If you see me hacking this week, don't worry - it's not contagious!)

The best part of the whole day was some good discussion with Scott on the walk back down. (I'm not sure what possessed us to pass up the shuttle?) I'm sore today, and sounding like I just puffed out my fourth pack since lunch, but I'm sure I'll do it again. I seem to find ways to do this to myself...

Anyone want to go running???

Compassion Blog

Compassion has a new blog. Various writers associated with Compassion talk about child sponsorship, poverty, and issues related to what's going on at Compassion.

LuAnn and I have sponsored kids through Compassion for a long time. It's really a good organization that's making a difference in the world for the sake of Christ. Check out their site and blog. Also, I've added a widget to my sidebar that you can use to sign up to sponsor a child. If you're not already doing this, maybe you should use it...

Amazing Visual

This is just pretty much amazing!

You can see more about Stephen Wiltshire at his site, including a gallery of his other work.

Friday, April 25, 2008


I'm usually pretty hesitant to put up recommendations of websites, but here comes one. A while back, Stuff Christians Like was launched. At first, I thought it was just going to be another cheap Christian knock off of another, similarly named popular site. I was wrong.

It's hilarious. You probably should go check it out if you haven't already read it. The site pokes fun at some of the silliness that we Christians enjoy, but also brings up some thought provoking issues. Take some time, look around the various posts. Make sure you're not somewhere you have to be quiet because you will laugh out loud...

NOTE: If you belong to the Holy Church of those who are Perpetually Unable to Laugh at Themselves you will not enjoy Stuff Christians Like. Stay away from there and return to your pickle juice immediately.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

What are we saying?

Sometimes in the church we get so familiar with our language that we stop actually thinking about what it means. I try to be really careful not to catch myself talking to students about things like "full life" that Jesus came to bring (or a number of other 'churchy' phrases) without making sure they understand what that is. I often wonder what other people really mean when they are talking about justification, or being saved, or getting saved, or living in the Spirit... Do they even know what they're saying?

One of the phrases that gets thrown around a lot is "making disciples". Most churches would, in some form or another, say that their mission/purpose/job/commission/vision (or a major part of it) is to make disciples. A church that would not say this (in some way) is ignoring Jesus, so probably is more of a club than a church anyway; and in a club you don't have to know what you're saying, just say it at the appropriate moment.

But for the actual church that is about making disciples, do we really know what we're talking about when we tell each other to make disciples? Just how do you make a disciple?

Eugene Peterson's Message paraphrases the Great Commission (Jesus' command to go make disciples) like this: "Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life, marking them by baptism in the threefold name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit."

The question to answer then is what way of life are we supposed to train people to live in? How is it possible in the 21st Century to live the way of life that Jesus taught His disciples to live in the 1st Century? What does this 'way of life' look like in our context?

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

White Trash Scavenger?

I like to keep things, you know... just in case. There I admitted it. I still have papers I wrote in High School! Mrs. Waschenfelder may be proud, but my wife is not so amused. My boxes of school items are a burning, festering sore in her housekeeping psyche. But, I keep things. Not just old school stuff. My garage is like an oasis of white trash scavenging bliss, hidden among the neighborhood homes. Filled with things like old license plates that could be bent into shape to make... something. Slabs of cardboard to put under the car so I don't get my back dirty under there - at least not until I actually pull the oil pan plug and dump oil all over my front! Parts and pieces of my Colt that I could (could!) sell on ebay if I can't find some other way to use them.

But this week I've learned two great lessons:

1. Free Day (or week) at the landfill is a good thing.
2. WINDY Free Day at the landfill - not so much.

As I was throwing various stripped parts from my race car, the Men in Big Machines felt it necessary to continually drive around kicking up the dust which then blew everywhere. And by everywhere I mean into my 4Runner. I know it's just dirt, but landfill dirt... ick!

The good news is in my 2 trips this week and last week I've gotten rid of a lot of those miscellaneous pieces of car that have been sitting around in my already-too-tiny garage, plus a headliner, door panels, seats, an old non-functional dishwasher, a broken screen door, a rotting old kitchen table, and two tires (i thought it odd that after all the tire changing I did last season I only had 2 tires to ditch - where did they all go?) .

It's a little belated, but Happy Earth Day!

...To make sure this would be my white trashiest entry ever, I also gave away the toilet and tub that have been sitting on my back patio since we took them out last fall! LuAnn is happy. But I'm still keeping my sophomore English papers!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Who are you?

We had some good conversation with some of our students last weekend on our trip to Cheyenne. We were talking about how God reveals Himself to us. There are a lot of ways He does that, but one of the most obvious and objective revelations of Himself comes to us through Scripture.

But, why does He bother to reveal Himself to us at all? As it says in Psalms, "What is man that you are mindful of us..."

In James, we are told that the person who reads Scripture but doesn't do what it says, is like a person who looks into a mirror then walks away and forgets what he looks like. Why do we look into mirrors? To make sure we look ok. This is more than just a catchy word picture to say "if you don't do what you see in Scripture then you're pretty dumb."

We're made in God's image. As He reveals Himself to us, He is also showing us who we are/should be. As we look at the reflection of Him given to us in Scripture, we see the reflection of who we were made to look like. As young people begin to detach their own personality from that of their parents, as they begin to discover "who they are" - it's critical that they come to define themselves in terms of what is revealed to them in Scripture (not athletics, appearance, or even academics).

Jesus talked about us living full lives. We can't do that if we're not fully ourselves. God reveals Himself to us so we can know who we are and live the life He calls us to live with Him.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Coffee Drops!

Like coffee? Want to try a little something different? A place in London has what might be the most expensive cup you'll ever try (or maybe you won't). It's basically made from coffee beans "harvested" from fecal matter! Whoah... You'll have to check the link for details, but I guess this kind of brings the job of "pooper scooper" to a whole new level.

In related news, a new Carribou Coffee opened up in our town this week. Actually, let's hope it's not related news at all! Can you imagine... uh, never mind.

Monday, April 07, 2008


I was listenning to a podcast sermon by Erwin McManus earlier today, where he quoted Benjamin Zander, conductor of Boston Philharmonic. This is what he (Zander) said:

"My job is to awaken possibilities in others."

What more succinct and appropriate description of youth ministry is there? I was reading this morning as Jesus was taking the Pharisees to task for their 'lordly' outlook: "Because we know God's law so well, we have authority to tell you what to do." Jesus pointed out how they really did know the letter of God's law very well, but were utterly failing at living out the heart of it. They couldn't obey, but grabbed for power by trying to make everyone else obey, then pointing it out when those people failed.

Youth ministry can be like that. We who lead in ministries that are geared for youth can easily spot the shortcomings of those we lead. It's not hard to find their failings and point them out so sharply that our students let themselves be defined by those failings. But what if our view of our "job" really was "to awaken possibilities" in our students? To uncover and draw out what God has placed within our students? Then what would become?

Olympic Mess

Probably nothing focuses the world's attention on one place like the Olympics. It's always a big deal when the next host is announced years in advance. There's always a great deal of fanfare and anticipation leading up to the event - including the torch run.

The Olympic Torch has come to symbolize the games themselves, but this year it seems the run will be encountering some difficulties. Protesters in London and Paris have halted the torch, forced it into buses for protection and turned what is normally a celebratory time into a spectacle of riot gear and tear gas. I think the next stop is San Francisco and I wouldn't plan on things getting any better.

The way these protests have brought attention to China's violations of human rights makes me wonder why the IOC chose Beijing to host the Olympics in the first place. I wonder if the Games themselves will be as heavily protested as the Torch run has been? If that happens, what will be the Chinese government's response? They haven't seemed to respond too favorably to protest in the past.

I also wonder what is the appropriate response for the church? How should we view a peace-and-harmony-promoting sporting event of this magnitude when it's held in a place where so many live without justice? Could a door be opening at this time for justice to increase?

Wednesday, April 02, 2008


Straight from the "No good deed goes unpunished" files:

Yesterday, LuAnn made a big pan of lasagna that we were taking to another family in town. She had kind of a rough day, and went to a lot of extra work (besides the normal chasing of children) to get the lasagna made. It smelled really good!

The plan was to load the kids in the van, deliver the dinner, then have enough time to go out to eat somewhere nice before our small group met. The "loading of the children" went smoothly, since 75% of them are mostly self-sufficiently functioning members of humanity now. But, as I opened the door from the patio to the driveway, the karmic malfunction began.

I didn't so much feel gravity strike as I heard it. You'd never guess how deafening the sound of a foil pan with a thin plastic lid scraping its way down the garage wall to the sidewalk below could be! In an instant, it was over and there was nothing I could do to fight, hide, or fix the results of what happens when an entire pan of lasagna is completely given over to gravity's hungry pull.

I so wished I could have said "April Fool's" when LuAnn asked if that was the lasagna she just heard. "What have you done? Listen! The Lasagna's blood cries out to me from the ground. Now you are under a curse and must drive to Sonic to pick up some burgers which you will not eat. But, alas, the road ahead will be full of slow traffic, slower carhops, and street blocking trains and you will be a restless wanderer in the land. And though you will inhale a hastily made sandwhich at Subway, yet will you be late."

Blog Archive

weblogUpdates.ping theoquest http://www.theoquest.blogspot.com/