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 -
everything.

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.
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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.

Imagine...

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.

video

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.

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