Friday, June 10, 2011

Kool-Aid

I remember with fondness drinking Kool-Aid at summer Vacation Bible Schools in Louisiana when I was a child.


As refreshments were served, the lady in charge would say, "drink the Kool-Aid" and we would hurriedly gulp down the Red-40 dye laced drinks and hurry on to the next activity.


"Drink the Kool-Aid" took on new meaning on a hot summer day in 1978 in Jonestown, Guyana as Jim Jones convinced his cult followers to drink Kool-Aid infused with potassium cyanide. On that day 913 of his 1100 followers "drank the Kool-Aid" and died. That experience introduced the phrase into the vernacular of modern conversations.


Recently the phrase has taken on a different and more positive nuance as marketers have used it to mean, "one who has embraced a particular philosophy or perspective."


For the last 20 years I have been a PC guy.


Earlier this week, "I drank the Kool-Aid" and today I am writing this blog from a MacBook Pro.


Please don't judge me. And please forgive me for all of the times I made fun of Mac users. The timing was right and my faithful PC began to grumble and complain about all of the things I was asking it to do. So, I decided to take the leap.


The salesman/geek/genius at Apple said as I completed my purchase, "welcome, you will never return to the dark side." Say what?


I didn't even know I was on the dark side, but today seems brighter. I feel smarter. I feel more tech savvy. My only fear is that people's expectations will rise exponentially as they read things that come from a MacBook Pro.


To be clear, I have a MacBook, but I am by no means a Pro. I'm just sayin'.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Thursdays

Thursdays are my writing days.


I treasure them and look forward to the quietness they bring. There is something mystical about writing that allows a person to empty their minds and see their thoughts splashed on paper or screen. Sometimes the experience of writing is shaped by where you write.


Today I am sitting in the Flint Institute of Arts coffee shop and the museum is quiet as they prepare for the Flint Institute Arts Show over the weekend.


Somehow being in the presence of other creative works is a great impetus to be creative.


Pablo Picasso, the great artist, said..."Art is a Lie that makes us realize Truth."


Surrounded by works of art reminds me that there are still a wealth of ideas, projects and concepts waiting to be developed by those willing to pursue them.


I have been wondering what it would take to create art that has a transformative value?


Julia Cameron, writing in The Artists Way, challenges the serious writer to do two things that have helped me in my quest to be creative.  First, she challenges the writer to commit to "Morning Pages."  These are three pages of long hand stream of consciousness writing, done first thing in the morning." She says, "there are no wrong ways to do Morning Pages-they are not high art. They are about anything and everything that crosses your mind-and they are for your eyes only."


Commit to this practice and you will have over a thousand pages of narrative at the end of one year.


Secondly, she says commit to an "Artist Date" weekly. This is a simple exercise of taking yourself to different places and different experiences out of the normal rhythms of your life. It is amazing what can happen when you go to experience other people's creativity.


So, Thursdays are my writing days. They are sacred days. They are "set aside" days to creatively write my way through life. Thursday mornings and early afternoons are given to the writing task in preparation to share powerful stories every Sunday with the community of faith.


So, gotta run...thepages are calling me, and I am ready to respond.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Technoslave

Adbusters Magazine has a wealth of resources that capture the meaning of our fast moving culture in pictures and narrative. Although I do not subscribe to it, I often read it over coffee and my favorite book museum at the mall.


This morning I was reading through some old notes I had written in spring of 2008. I had forgotten about an article I read in the May/June 2008 issue of Adbusters.


The title of the article was Technoslave by Eric Slate. He writes....


"Once, while I was riding on a crowded bus, the man sitting next to me threw his cell phone out the window. When his phone rang, instead of dutifully answering it, he casually tossed it away. I was stunned. He looked at me, shrugged and looked away. I had no idea if it was his, if it was stolen or even if he knew what a cell phone was. But in one seemingly careless motion, he managed to liberate himself from something that has completely consumed me."


All of this has caused me to think. That is a haunting phrase..."He managed to liberate himself" from something that "completely consumed" him.


I wonder what would happen if we were "liberated" from things that completely "consume" us?  I wonder what our lives would look like if we were not consumed by our calendars, clocks, commitments and confusion?


What would happen if our lives were not "consumed" by our kids sports schedules, the sales at the mall, coupons, appointments and busy-ness?


What would happen if we "threw away" all of those things that ensnare us and lived "liberated" lives?


Back to the story...


Imagine walking along the sidewalk and seeing a cell phone hurtling toward you from an open bus window. If that ever happens to you, I am hoping that it is someone being set free from the "tyranny of the ought" rather than someone who is angry with you and wants to settle it by throwing a cell phone.


Either way, the person is "liberated!"

Monday, June 6, 2011

Judge

This morning I spent two hours in the court room of one of the finest judges in our community. He is known for his fairness, his faith and his fast wit. The reason I was there was to be supportive of a young person who has had a difficult life and who was faced with a series of serious criminal charges.


One by one other people appeared before the judge. Some appeared in person and others appeared via closed circuit television. Each had their story and each made a plea before the judge.


After several of the cases, the judge asked questions from some of those who appeared before him


I marveled at the judge's candor and the way it disarmed those before the bar. I was amazed as he inquired about people's educational and family backgrounds. I was stunned by how easily and honestly the people responded to the judge's inquiries.


Finally, he paused as he concluded his questions of one of those who had been charged. It looked like the accused was heading toward a prison sentence. 


The judge looked at the young man and asked him, "Do you know the five factors I take into consideration when I prepare to sentence people who are guilty of crimes? The young man stood silent.


The judge spoke as he pointed to each finger on his left hand. What he said next was stunning. He said, "I consider a person's education, their employment, father involvement, drug usage, and mother involvement." 


It was amazing to me that the majority of those who appeared before the judge today were under-educated,  had no job or prospect of a job, there was little or no involvement of a father, there was drug addiction yet there was involvement of a mother. 


It was just like the judge said.


As I walked out of the court, I met an attorney who is a part of our community of faith. He asked me what I was doing in court. I told him why I was there and seemed to breathe a sigh of relief. We laughed and parted ways.


But I was still thinking about all of the people who stood before the judge. I wondered how the trajectory of their life story may have been different if they would have taken advantage of educational opportunities, if they were busy working, if they had both parents active in their life and if there were no drug or alcohol issues.

Something to think about....

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Emma

video 

Emma is a local hero who is a part of our community of faith....


She has exemplified courage and faith in the midst of adverse circumstances caused by leukemia.  It has been my privilege to visit her in the hospital during her many stays. Each time I visit her I go to be an encouragement to her, but I walk out encouraged.

We salute you Emma as you continue to wage a courageous battle. Thanks for being an example of courage!

Thanks for your story!

Friday, June 3, 2011

Deep Change

Yesterday I had lunch with a trusted friend.

We discussed everything from A to Z. We solved problems. We strategically thought through complex issues. 

Then we paid our bill and left the restaurant.

Except, my mind kept on going after we left the restaurant. We are living in a demanding time and it is not easy to lead in a changing culture. Then I remembered something I read recently.

As a stark reminder to those facing the shifting forces of culture, Robert E. Quinn writing in Deep ChangeDeep says we are faced with two options...Change of Slow Death. He doesn't suggest any middle ground. He doesn't provide a half way point, rather he calls for "deep change" that ushers in new realities personally and organizationally.

"The land of excellence is safely
guarded from unworthy intruders.

At the gates stand two fearsome
sentries - risk and learning.

The keys to entrance are faith and courage."
 Deep Change, p.165 

There are few people who lead with their heads and their hearts. There are many who think they do, but few have mastered the craft of head and heart leadership. For those who lead with both, they have experienced the "deep change" necessary to knock on the gates of the "land of excellence."

No longer living as "people pleasers," they have centered on the hard work of principled leadership that casts vision and articulates mission. They are willing to make tough choices even when it might be unsettling to those whom they lead. They do what is right because it's the "right thing to do" and people follow them.

They are familiar with risk and learning...they are comfortable with faith and courage even though circumstances try their resolve.

Watching leaders over the last twenty five years, I have seen "head and heart" leaders who re-shaped organizations and recaptured fragments left behind by lack of leadership. I have marveled as these leaders "storied" their way through a myriad of competing cultures and clashing expectations and in so doing have ushered in a vibrancy to the organizations they lead.

Reflecting on my conversation over lunch, I have again been reminded that change is difficult. It is often resisted and "excused" away.

Quinn says, "the price of not making deep change is...slow death, a meaningless and frustrating experience enmeshed in fear, anger, and helplessness, while moving surely toward what is most feared."

That is a frightening prospect to consider. Looks like "deep change" is on the horizon for all of us. I wonder if we will embrace it and see transformation or resist it and experience organizational paralysis.

I have a great friend who is a leader...The organization he leads has embraced a "Deep Change" mission statement. It is..."Moving with God Now!" I like that...it doesn't leave any room for mediocrity or apathy.

So....I am headed off today to "keep in step with God" (and embrace change)!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Hunch

I wonder how many people who regularly attend church have a basic "working knowledge" of the Old Testament stories in the Bible?  I have a hunch...that number is diminishing...


I am not talking about an all out proficiency and expertise in being able to rehearse the stories in vivid detail at a moments notice.  I am talking about a basic understanding of the narratives in the Old Testament and their relevance.


All of this has got me thinking about the people around me who have been a part of the church all of their life. I wonder if there is an imperceptible biblical illiteracy slowly creeping into the church?


Last night I received an interesting article entitled, "Squaring Off with Biblical Illiteracy: 7 Bricks for a Solid Foundation" by Mark Steiner. In the brief article he addresses my suspicion that there is a drifting that could lead the church adrift unless we recover the lost stories in the arc of Scripture.


With clarity, I remember the family Bible Story book from my childhood. I recall hearing the stories and seeing the pictures of characters from the pages of Scripture. I remember hearing the stories on vinyl 33's played on the hi-fi. I remember hot Sunday School classrooms and teachers using flannel-graph to communicate the stories.

I remember with fondness reading the stories to my kids from "The Bible in Pictures for Little Eyes" by Kenneth Taylor.


I am not traveling down "memory lane" for the purpose of recalling the "good old days" rather I am thinking about the future of the church and her mission in the world. I am asking myself hard questions about my role in communicating these stories in compelling ways so that future generations will be able to tell them in relevant ways.

Mark Steiner writing in his article says,  

"20 years from now, the churches across 
America that pulsate with life and show signs 
of vibrant health will be those that address 
the crisis of biblical illiteracy. Churches with 
anemia or those that have collapsed will be among
those that have failed to come to grips 
with this issue."

In preparation for a series of messages, I have been exploring lists of "core" Old Testament Bible Stories that every person should be familiar with.  I though it would be an easier task.  But there are a lot of stories embedded in God's Story that have not surfaced in my preaching and teaching recently. Stories many have relegated to the bin of irrelevance or improbability.


So, I am going to begin a series this summer that will unwrap these "core" stories. I am not doing this series because I can't think of anything else to do. I am going to be intentional. I am going to be patient. I am going to be be a storyteller rehearsing the Great Story of God over the next several months. It is with great joy and anticipation that I embark on this "story-journey."


By the way...what Old Testament stories do you think should be included in the series?

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Holy Worldliness

A couple of weeks ago I took myself out to dinner. It was Life Group meeting at the house and I was not the right gender to be a part of the evening of conversation among Mom's, so I took myself out to dinner.

I went to a restaurant normally I would not patronize because my family refuses to eat there. They have good food even though it will not make the Health Departments "hit list" for the cleanest restaurant in the county, but they have good food so I went.

Before going I stopped by the local "Christian Gifts and Trinkets" outlet and purchased a copy of one of my favorite magazines to read while eating dinner alone. 

Sitting down I flipped open Relevant Magazine. On the inside cover there were three splashy words...Engage Pop Culture.

It was an advertisement for Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

There were two words in smaller block print that caught my attention...

Holy Worldliness

Underneath the words was a brief paragraph...

Should you reject popular culture or embrace it?
Consider Calvin's alternative:  Holy Worldliness.
Using the lens of our Christian faith, Calvin helps
students piece together the positives and negatives 
of popular culture-to be in the world, but not of it.
It's a bold path, but we accept the challenge.

That is an amazing paragraph whether you agree with it or not. It is a provocative way of looking at the world in a time of incredible change and upheaval. 

To be sure there are people who fully embrace this paragraph and there are those that would cite a paragraph like this as evidence that the church is on a "slippery slope" from which there is little chance of catching ourselves.

Now, I could have avoided all of this by not eating at the restaurant, not purchasing a magazine and just staying home. But that doesn't negate the realities around me. 

Holy Worldliness

All of this has caused me to think.There is a culture that needs redeeming for His Kingdom's sake, and "using the lens of our Christian Faith" is the place to start. I am keeping my eyes open to see "Holy Worldliness" opportunities today. I think Calvin College may be on to something as they seek to Engage Pop Culture.

What do you think?

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Motivation

This  morning I overheard the following conversation between two people in their mid-80's

"There is one of them big motivational conferences downtown."

He said, "A what?"

"A motivational conference."

"Humph."

"Wait, you haven't heard who is speaking?"

"Yeah, who's speaking?"

Now at this point I was interested in hearing the slate of speakers.

She continued, "Rudolph Guiliani, Robert Schuller, Colin Powell, some football player and a couple of other people I don't know...Sounds interesting. Wanna go?"

The old man mumbled something that I couldn't understand, but I am pretty sure he wasn't interested in going to a motivational conference.

Now that isn't the best part of the story...What the old lady said next floored me.

She said, "yeah, I am to old to think about being motivated anyway, what would I do if I got motivated?"

I can't remember anything else, but that is a haunting question.  Can you ever be to old to be motivated? Is there a point in your life where you just give up and say, "well, I am just going to go through life on automatic pilot?"

I got up and left, but I am still thinking about two things. First, I am thinking about the old man who mumbled and secondly, I am thinking about a lady who thinks she is to old to be motivated. Sad.

George Eliot was right when he said, "It's never to late to be who you might have been."

I wonder if he ever went to a motivational conference?

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Future

Thomas Aquinas College is a liberal arts institution located outside the town of Santa Paula, California.  It is Catholic in its educational orientation.


It has several distinctive features which makes it unique.  Flowing out of the Catholic intellectual tradition there are no textbooks and no formal lectures. There are no majors or specializations.  It is rooted firmly in the historical traditions of the church and her history.


"It is the truth that sets men free" is the guiding principle which charts the course for students, faculty and administration. It is a unique oases in the debates over contemporary texts, trends and tenure.


Not long ago I was reading one of my favorite journals entitled First Things. According to their website, they are an "interreligious, non-partisan, research and education institute whose purpose is to advance a religiously informed public philosophy for the ordering of society."


That being said, the real purpose of citing First Things is because they advertise educational institutions in the Catholic Tradition. 


St. Thomas Aquinas' advertisement caught my eye. The print ad simply had a picture of the school and in a basic text the following words appeared over the picture.


'The future never needed the past
more than it does today."

Those eleven words are powerful words.  The leadership of St. Thomas Aquinas is using those words to advertise a classical education. But I have been thinking about what those words might mean if we seriously applied them to other situations we face on a daily basis.

The future can inform the present in innovative ways, but it can profoundly shape the future of serious organizations that are interested in making a difference in people and communities. I am living in the present because I have the benefit of the past. But I am oriented toward the future. My prayer is that I will bring the best of the past and present into my efforts to shape the future.

Just think of it....a college with no textbooks or lectures...One would think they wouldn't need to advertise for that kind of education...


Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Bureaucracy

Bureaucracy.


It is the death knell for many worthy projects.  Needs constantly present themselves and resources are committed to meet the needs. Why are not more needs easily met when the resources stand ready and available?


Bureaucracy.


I remember FEMA trailers bogged down in muddy fields in the greater New Orleans metropolis during Katrina. Even though  trailers were shipped to address the growing needs, numbers of families displaced by the waters of the hurricane still remained in shelters or with families. The trailers were close, but not close enough to meet the needs of the needy. Why?


Bureaucracy.


It seems simple...you have a need and a resource is committed to meeting the need. But the need continues even though the resources are at hand. Blame is shifted, fingers are pointed and decisions are on hold because turf battles are being fought in some distant office. All the while, people remain homeless even though temporary housing is available.


After serving in disaster response in Slidell, Pearl River, Baton Rouge, New Orleans, Wapello, Burlington, Cedar Rapids, Houston, Galveston, Jasper and Cordova, Alabama, I have seen my fair share of bureaucratic tangles and tie-ups. 


As "hurricane season" approaches and as tornadoes continue to steal lives and damage property, Joplin Missouri will now be in the spotlight. Resources are being stretched thin and often the needs outpace the funding streams.


My prayer is that all resources will flow to meet the needs and none will be hampered by crippling bureaucracies. This is why churches and non-profits are often the first to respond to disasters. They are are not encumbered like government agencies.


Standing on the streets of Slidell Louisiana in the aftermath of Katrina,  I was talking with a local resident.  He said, "look around...do you see any government officials? Do you see anybody from the city, the parish, the state?"  While I was looking around he answered his own question. "Nope! The only people you see are people from churches working in our community." Then he said, "Thanks for coming!"

I love when bureaucratic knots are untangled and people with genuine needs find and are able to restore their lives. I love being part of a church that responds to needs with all of her resources. Today I will respond to needs with all of the resources that God has given me right here where I live.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Loss

It has happened again. Devastation and loss of life has become part of the DNA of Joplin, Missouri. Nearly a hundred people have lost their lives as a result of the tornado activity overnight.


The images are reminiscent of those we have seen in the Southeast United States.What is happening? 


It will take a few hours to begin to assess the damage and to consider the steps to recovery. I have seen these kinds of devastation and it never gets easier.


My heart goes out to the residents of Joplin, Missouri. Seated in the comfort of my home this morning, I am reminded of how events like this can seem far removed from where we live. It is easy to compartmentalize our lives and think that events like this will never touch our world. But, disasters are not necessarily limited to tornadoes and hurricanes.

My prayers are with the people of the central United States this morning. 

Friday, May 20, 2011

Lemonade

On Sunday morning, following the morning worship service, I was greeting people.


A mom and her two daughters were patiently waiting to talk while others were milling around the lobby. After a few minutes I realized they were waiting to talk with me.


Pausing, I spoke to them and one of the little girls handed me a white envelope with scribbling on the outside. Her face beamed as she handed the envelope to me. Now, I get a lot of things handed to me as people walk through each Sunday, so I wasn't sure what was inside.


I was not prepared for what I saw.


Her mom encouraged her to explain the envelope and its contents.


Quietly, she said that she and her sister had opened a lemonade stand in her neighborhood the previous week. The purpose was to raise money for people affected by the tornadoes in Alabama.


The need is great. It will take millions and millions and millions of dollars to address the great needs of the people from that region.


Nobody told them how much it would cost. They thought that they would sell lemonade and give the proceeds to people who were suffering.


I opened the envelope and peeked inside in front of them.


There were seven one dollar bills.  Seven dollars.  That's right...seven dollars.


Probably you are thinking..."what can be done with seven dollars?"  The answer is really simple. If everyone gave seven dollars, the needs of people in the southeast United States would be met.


I am thankful for the simple faith of young children that enables them to see themselves as part of the solution to the pressing needs around us.  Thanks Emily and Ashley for have sensitive hearts and realizing that a "cup of cool lemonade" in His name can make a huge difference.


I am scheduled to return to Alabama for an assessment trip to look at a project that will require lots of people to make financial commitments. I can't wait to go back and present this envelope as the "lead gift" to this project. Stay tuned.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Perspective


Enough is enough.

OK, I get it. 

Osama bin Ladin is dead and has arrived at his final destination
Arnold Swarzenegger had a son out of wedlock that results in him 
no longer being in wedlock.
Dominique Strauss-Kahn sexually assaulted a woman in a posh 
New York City hotel that landed him in a jail cell on Rykers Island.
Donald Trump is no longer running for President of the United States.


These stories dominate the headlines and airwaves. Continually. Each portion of the story is meticulously dissected by authorities, specialists and "talking heads."


I know what you are thinking...."just turn the TV off...stop reading periodicals and newspapers." You are probably right.

But, I am wondering what it is about the networks and news groups that makes them think the American public is interested in these stories 24/7? My real question is, "why do these stories dominate the news cycle?"

I am also wondering about the other stories that should be aired.


What about the family that has worked all of their lives on the Mississippi Delta and now leave their home knowing the waters that provided them a living will now destroy all they have worked for?


What about churches that struggle to care for their communities in the midst of times of adversity?


What about communities that are re-building after  facing incredible trauma?


What about the pastor who has a vision for a Compassionate Ministries Center in his community that has the possibility of the changing the lives of people who have looked fear in the face?


Somehow, these questions seem far more important than the story of Arnold's "love child"...more important than Donald Trump's presidential aspirations...and way more important than who will head the International Monetary Fund now that Strauss-Kahn has resigned.


Growing up we received a newspaper that was filled with human interest stories and encouraging news. The name of the newspaper was Grit. Strange name for a newspaper, but it chronicled stories that warmed your heart and challenged neighbors to be neighbor-ly.  


There are some things that I am not sure of, but one thing I am sure of is that Grit wouldn't be much concerned with Arnold, Donald, Strauss-Kahn or Osama...To be sure, there would be plenty of coverage on ways to help people, encourage people and make a real difference in the lives of those less fortunate. In a chaotic world, we need more encouragement and inspiration to be people of grace.


Perspective.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Quips

I have always been amused by Winston Churchill and his sharp wit. History is replete with examples of his acerbic tongue and ability to craft words in ways that are entertaining. 

Last evening I was reading and ran across another of Churchill's quips.


George Bernard Shaw, playwright and writer, sent a note to Winston Churchill inviting him to an opening night of his newest play.


"I am enclosing two tickets to the the first night of 
my new play, bring a friend...if you have one."


Churchill was not amused with Shaw's innuendo. So he replied...


"Cannot possibly attend the first night, 
will attend second...if there is one."


In the words of someone wiser than me..."some things are left better unsaid." 

Yeah, but you've gotta love the quick wit of Churchill and his ability to communicate how he felt about Shaw's insult.


All of this makes me wonder. I think that "some things are left better unsaid" in a world where opinions and comments are readily offered.


There is an old adage that says, "you don't have to attend every argument you are invited to." In other words, you don't have to respond to every comment which comes your way. 


Churchill never seemed to master that art. Most of us will struggle with mastering that as well. Today the challenge will be to "watch our words" so that we can pray the prayer, "may the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight."

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Adages

Last week I was sitting in a meeting of pastors.  This is not unusual, however the meeting was for young pastors who were beginning their ministry.


A seasoned pastor was speaking and challenging the new pastors to think about their future as agents of change and renewal. With expertise forged on the anvil of experience, he made a statement that applies to everyone, not just pastors.


My mind was jolted when he made the statement...


He said, 


"At the end of your life you will be remembered 
for one of two things."


I would like to be remembered for more than that. I sat in reflection as the rest of his words finished the sentence. How many things would you like to remembered for?  What would you like to be remembered for? Are you doing anything right now that is memorable and will be recalled by future generations? Will you do anything day that is commendable to those who follow you?


Poignant questions.


He said,


"At the end of your life you will be remembered
for one of two things. You will be remembered for the 
problems you created or the problems that you solved."

He is right.

The more I think about what he said, the more I realize that my memories of people are closely tied to those two observations. I remember people who "caused problems" and those who "solved problems."

To be sure, if you are a "problem solver" it will be necessary to have "problem causers" otherwise you won't have much work.


I would like to be remembered for the problems I solved rather than the problems I caused. Time will tell. However, I want to be faithful to solve problems that come across my path.


I am grateful for those who have gone before me and for all of the problems they solved so that I can have a place of service. I want to face life with a "no problem" attitude. 

Thanks Ron Blake, pastor of Detroit First Church for your words last week.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Either/Or

John Huffman, a Presbyterian Pastor, mastered the art of pithy sayings that carried weighty meanings.With poignancy he called his congregation to meaningful service and mission with these timely words...

Either you are a minister or you need one
Either you are a missionary or your need one

Even I get the meaning in his words. 

As long as I can remember, we have been told that "everyone is a minister...everybody is a missionary" in the world we live in. Deception creeps in and reminds us that "ministering" and "mission-aring" are for trained professionals and most of us should avoid these.

John Huffman is right.

We need to rise above popular notions which prevent us from serving God by serving others. We all have blind spots that prevent us from taking the first step. Yet, we are called to do the very thing that most people try to avoid.

Nudging its way into the Christian faith is the notion that we can follow Christ and not serve others. We convince ourselves it is OK to have a private faith that works for us but does not impact the lives of those we meet daily.

Either you are a minister or you need one
Either you are a missionary or your need one

There are days when I need a minister or a missionary to point me in the right direction, but once I get my bearings and know His direction I am called to point others in His direction. The Christian faith does not lead  people to "sit and soak" in their faith. We are called to something much different.

I am headed out this morning to declare His Glory and remind the people I serve that Pastor John Huffman's words are powerful but His Word is more powerful. Both can transform us into pilgrims on the journey.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Between

All of us live "between" alternatives. "Between a rock and a hard place" is familiar territory for many in today's culture. We are well accustomed to living in an "either/or" world that forces us to make choices. 


I am caught right now "between" two haunting stewardship questions. 

The first question is "what can I spare?" and the second is, "what will it take?" 

It is easy to think these questions are relegated to money and pass them off because we think we are already stretched financially. It is another to consider these questions in light of the commodity of time.

When faced with need, my first response is often "what can I spare?"  It is seldom "what will it take?"  I am no busier than the next person, but my first response is similar to that of many others. Often we see how little effort is required to address a need. It is sorta like giving leftovers or scraps when a great need is expressed. 

I am wondering what my life would look like if I learned to ask, "what will it take?" when a great need arises. 

Here are a couple of quick observations from my experience...

"What can I spare?" is an easy way of letting me off the hook when a compelling need surfaces.
"What can I spare?" doesn't require great sacrifice.
"What can I spare?" silently says, "somebody else will take care of the need."
"What can I spare?" means my needs are more important than anyone elses.


"What will it take?"...now, that's a whole other question. I can only ask that question when I realize that time and finances ultimately belong to Him. He is the source of all of the things that I have. When I get to that point in my life I can no longer ask, "what can I spare?" but I will ask "what will it take?"


So, today I choose to live in the "what will it take?" world and trust that He will provide the necessary resources.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Mission Trip

The needs are great all around us and summer is approaching. Youth groups are preparing for summer mission trips, churches are preparing to take mission trips to disaster zones and college students will serve in needy areas.

Since returning from the tornado damaged areas of St. Louis area and Alabama, I have been repeatedly asked, "when are we going?"

This is a genuine question arising out of people's real desire to serve those whose lives have been affected by natural disasters.

All of this has caused me to think more deeply about "mission trips." Leonard Sweet, writing in So Beautiful, says, "We don't need more mission trips but more people for whom all of life is a mission trip." 


In a world where it is easy to live a segmented life, one can easily think about "going on a mission trip" and then returning home. It is easy to think that the "mission field" is the place of service and home is the place where we prepare for mission trips.

Recently I read a startling statement that puts all of this in perspective..."Just because God sent you doesn't mean God told anyone else you were coming!"


My prayer is that my life will be a "sent" one that follows where He leads, rather than a life that depends on "mission trips" to get a ministry fix.

This summer there will be lots of "mission trips" for students, churches and other groups. Many of them will be somewhere "over there." Don't forget that today is a "mission trip!  Enjoy the journey!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Breathe

I have finally caught my breath after spending a week in Alabama helping those whose lives were re-arranged by the devastating tornadoes.

It has taken me longer than I anticipated to re-acclimate to my schedule and life. It sounds funny to say that, but it was overwhelming to work in the destruction knowing that I would get in my car and head home. Although I have been back for several days, my heart continues to be heavy over what I have seen and experienced.

As I ease back into the rhythms of my life I continue to think about those who labor in their efforts to restore order to the chaos.

As I reflect on all that I have seen, my mind is again challenged to think about flooding on the Mississippi and the downriver communities that will experience similar devastation.

It is one thing to see damage caused by a physical tornado and it is another thing to watch the aftermath caused by emotional tornadoes in people's lives. Either are painful.

My prayers are with the people who suffer today.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Unimaginable

Unimaginable horror and destruction...

I have seen a lot of disasters over the last several years, but nothing compares to the things that have happened in Alabama.

At the same time, I have never witnessed the outpouring of support and appreciation for the work that is being done.

I have not written for the last couple of days due to the intensity of our work schedule.  

Here are the stories that will come in next several days...
...the Doctor who lost his entire office building has a brand new mobile medical clinic for the community
...the four year old girl who barely escaped her bedroom when a 48" tree fell and split her bedroom in half
...the pastor who lost several of his closest friends who perished in the tornado
...the sight of a tract of land that used to be a community, but now no longer exists.
...the evidence left by the result of 265 miles per hour tornado winds
...a family of 11 who lost nearly everything now living in a small travel trailer and underneath a small tent
...a woman who narrowly escaped death when a storefront building collapsed on her car
...the scores of people who lost co-workers, friends and neighbors as a result of the tornado.
...family members who are still waiting for word on their missing loved ones.


There are more stories to be told, but finding the right words to describe them remains a challenge.


The team is doing incredible work and I am grateful for their contribution.


Please continue to pray for the people of the communities of Cordova, Hackleburg and Phil Campbell. These communities have incredible needs. We are grateful for the opportunity to serve.


Stay tuned for the stories....

Friday, April 29, 2011

Excited

Well, the Royal Wedding has come and gone. Life has returned to normal. The pomp and circumstance surrounding the event rivaled the pageantry from other royal wedding events.

I was shocked to see the major coverage from around the world and to see the continual follow up coverage.

Not everyone was excited and thrilled by the happenings.

I love this picture of one of the youngest members of the bridal party. She was excited at the beginning of the festivities, but by the time the kiss took place on the balcony of Buckingham Palace, she had experienced enough excitement for one day.

Life is sorta like that.....to much of a good thing can be a bad thing. I am not sure how I feel about all of the events of today, but one thing for sure, I can identify with the little girls perspective

It all makes sense when you see the big picture....

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Help

I recognized both the number and voice on my voice mail yesterday afternoon. I have heard and seen both before. Every time I see them I cringe and think about the reason for the call. 

The call was from Steve who for several years has been a friend and colleague.

I first met him in the days immediately following Hurricane Katrina. Although we never met, he and I became immediate friends. 

Since that time we have worked in Disaster Response in New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Galveston, and Iowa. We have waded through mud, debris and devastation that defies description. We have listened to stories from those who have lost everything and God has allowed us to be a part of helping people find ways to begin to put their lives back together.

Back to the phone call. Steve called yesterday.

Bridgeton, Missouri faced a devastating tornado on Friday evening that destroyed a community. 

Last evening I spoke with a person who is trying to coordinate the recovery efforts in Bridgeton and she described the devastation and sense of despair from those who have lost everything. "People don't know what to do, and they are just waiting for someone to come and help." 

I listened with a heavy heart. I have heard these stories before. It never gets easier, it just seems the needs get greater.

So...

I am planning to take a team to Bridgeton, Missouri to do what we have done in New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Galveston and Iowa. We will cut trees, remove debris, and tarp houses to minimize further damage.I am not sure of all of the details yet, but I will know more later this morning.

There is more to this effort than what I have described. I always go with the intention of being a help and ministering to those who have lost everything, but I walk away helped and ministered to by those I meet.

Bridgeton, Missouri....you are in our prayers. 

As I am writing this, there are additional reports coming in from other parts of the country that have faced tornadoes and the loss of life and property. We are also on the edge of "hurricane season" and the projections are that this is going to be a very "active" season.

His resources are adequate...my prayer is that mine will be as well.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Instruments

A couple of weeks ago while in Nashville, Tennessee we took a tour of the Schermerhorn Symphony Center in downtown. It is an incredible facility beautifully adorned with architectural details gleaned from many of the finest concert halls from across Europe.

While on the tour, the guide told us about the "petting zoo" that was a part of the Schermerhorn. I was interested by her description and immediately my mind began to think about animals. My thoughts were interrupted by the guides words, "the petting zoo was on the lower floor of the symphony hall and was destroyed by the most recent flooding in Nashville."

I was having difficulty reconciling the idea of animals on the lower level of a concert hall. I was trying to figure out why a beautiful facility like this would need animals.

My mind was jolted back to the tour. The guide went on to describe the "petting zoo." She was referring to a large group of  musical instruments that are taken to public schools so children can be introduced to them. They refer to these instruments as the "petting zoo." Kids can actually touch, hold, play and experiment with the sounds of each instrument. The hope is that children will take an interest in music and eventually end up on the stage of the Schermerhorn.

Imagine the instruments in the hands of little children. Imagine when the teacher says "we are going to be having a petting zoo on Thursday of next week," and instead of animals, instruments show up. I guess I wasn't to far off in my expectations when I heard the tour guides description.

St. Ignatius of Loyola wrote a Latin phrase that has my attention this morning....instrumentum conjunctum cum Deo. Translated it means..."an instrument shaped to the contours of the hand of God."

I want to be an "instrument" that is formed and fashioned by the shape of His hands. To many times I try to shape God's hand into an instrument that I can use to find and get my way in this world.

A "petting zoo."  What would happen if the world saw me and you today as "an instrument shaped to the contours of the hand of God?" 

Do you think that peace would have a better chance?  Could it be that those who are hungry might be fed? What is the possibility that angst in our communities would subside?" I am just wondering...

By the way the Nashville floods destroyed a "petting zoo" of about thirty musical instruments. Since the flood, the community has responded and now the Schermerhorn has over a thousand in their "petting zoo." Think of it...instruments waiting to be used to bring music and harmony to the world. That's what I want to be about today...

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Resurrection

The band was rockin'...
The voices were raised...
The celebration was on...
It was Easter Celebration at our house of worship.

The words we sang together were powerful. Matt Maher wrote..

O death!  Where is your sting?
O hell!  Where is your victory?
O church!  Come stand in the light!
The glory of God has defeated the night!

This morning our church came and stood in the light!  It was incredible!  Voices were raised, hands were raised, and we celebrated the empty tomb.

In the middle of the message this morning, I shared the story of West Covina church in California. In the early 1990's it was coming into its own and making a significant impact on the community. I was interested in what God was doing in that church so on a trip to the west coast I made my way to the church.

It was a very simple building, but a very powerful place of worship and service. After studying the church, I fell in love with the motto that described the church.

West Covina Church
"....where the flock comes to rock!"

Today the "flock came to rock"

Today the flock left the shadows and stood in the light of His Resurrection

Today the flock learned that "looking for the living among the dead" will always lead you to the darkness.

I am still a little out of breath from this morning...but you know I am learning to live "breathless" in His Presence! Happy Resurrection Day!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Stations

Today is Good Friday.

From 11 am to 8 pm the Stations of the Cross have been available to the families of our community. There has been a steady stream of people come through and walk the pathway Jesus walked on the way to the cross.


I have been able to observe the comings and goings of pilgrims as they have reflected on the Journey to the Cross. 


For the last several years we have dimmed the lights, lit candles, offered communion and encouraged pilgrims to walk the Stations.


Today was different. The Stations of the Cross were the same, the music, communion and the moments were the same, but today was different. 


Working in the balcony overlooking the sanctuary, I was able to see people slowly walk through the Stations of the Cross. There were people of all ages and families of every description.


The most beautiful sight was to watched parents with young children use this time worn practice as a way of teaching their children about the suffering and death of Jesus. Although I couldn't hear the conversations, I watch as parents read the scripture, pointed to the pictures and led their children through the events of Good Friday.


My guess is that today will be indelibly etched on the memories of young pilgrims who will day by day increase in their understanding of the significance of this day.


It made me want to be a child again and have the meaning and significance explained to me like parents did with their children today. And then it hit me...the only way to learn is to have the "faith of a child."


Although today is dark....there is a Light in the distance....

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Slurping

The sound of a water fountain was interrupted by a slurping noise. Not just once but over and over again. Slurping noises emanated from the person bent over drinking water from the fountain in Borders bookstore.


I thought one or two slurps would be adequate, but no! I lost count at nine slurps in rapid succession in the middle of the bookstore. Aren't cups and glasses supposed to prevent this primeval slurping in public?

By now I was fascinated to see what the "slurper" looked like after he had in "camel-like" fashion watered at the Border's oasis. 

Imagine my surprise when I saw him. He was a short scrawny guy who looked like he needed to gain more nourishment than could be derived from slurping, but who am I to judge?

I was corrected as a child anytime I slurped even though I often did it to to attract attention. You know the type of person I am describing...they are the people who chase the last bit of milk shake around the bottom of an empty cup with a straw and a huge sucking sound.

Needless to say, I was distracted by the person hunched over the water fountain and his annoying sounds.

Then it hit me...

Slurping is a part of slowly savoring what you are drinking. The alternative is gulping. You can't slurp fast, it takes time. Slurping allows you enjoy the taste and the moments.

I wonder how often I "gulp" life in my hurried pace? I wonder how often I slake my thirst for life and fail to taste the moments? 

Maybe I ought to learn to "slurp" life and slow down to experience the aroma and flavor of every moment. Perhaps the reason so many of us experience indigestion over life is because of how rapidly we take life in. 

The man at Borders stood over the water fountain for nearly two minutes. And by the way, the water continued to flow while he was "slurping." There's a lesson somewhere in there. God says, "taste and see that the Lord is good..." Psalms 34:8

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Elevators

Years ago department stores, skyscrapers and downtown office buildings had elevator operators. Today we ride elevators and push the floor buttons ourselves, but years ago there was a person seated on a stool in the corner with the responsibility of "running" the elevator.

You would enter the elevator and the attendant would ask for the floor number. After announcing your floor the attendant would press that button and announce your arrival by opening the door.

What would it be like to work as an elevator operator? I am sure you would meet a lot of interesting people, have short conversations, and then head to the next floor. 

Eugene Peterson writing in The Pastor: A Memoir, describes his early days in ministry. He says, "it seemed like being put in charge of one of those old fashioned elevators, spending all day with people in their ups and downs but with no view."

It would be easy to say that this description is limited to clergy, but anybody who tries to help people can easily identify with Peterson's description. Parents of teenagers can feel this, teachers in the classroom can identify with this, counselors, caregivers and "people" people are not exempt.

Helping others in their "ups and downs" even though we can't see the full picture shouldn't prevent us from helping.

What would happen if we made a commitment to assist those in their "ups and downs" even though we may not be able to see the full view? What would happen if our commitment extended to those who most needed help even though we may not know all of the reasons for why they are in their situation?

Helping people will always have its "ups and downs" but we are still called to help. When we face this reality, we may be tempted to wish we were elevator operators. "Floor number, please?"

Monday, April 18, 2011

Hospitality

Hospitality is a lost art.

Few seem to have the desire or ability to be hospitable in ways that sweep people into moments of connection.

It may be even harder to define or describe, but one certainly knows when they are participating in hospitable moments.  I have experienced people's hospitality in the simplest of ways and in some of the most unexpected places, both have been refreshing.

I have been reading Eugene Peterson's book entitled, The Pastor, A Memoir, over the last couple of days. In his writings he describes his wife and her hospitable ways. Even though he is a prolific writer who pens his ideas with precision, he seems to struggle to define "hospitality."


If Jan (his wife) had to give a name to what she was doing, it would probably be something on the order of "hanging around this intersection between and earth and seeing what there is to be done." p. 194.

Reading those words last night reminded me that his wife's words are not a bad way to live. 

Flannery O'Connor writes similar words. "The writer operates at a similar crossroads where time and place and eternity somehow meet. His problem is to find that location." At the risk of scandalizing Flannery O'Connor's thoughts, I wonder if you can insert the word "hospitable person" in the place of "writer?" I wonder if you can insert the word, "pilgrim" into her phrase.

My assignment for the day is to explore this "intersection" between "heaven and earth." My task is to keep my eyes open for opportunities for "hospitality" and the place where "time and place and eternity" meet.

That shouldn't be difficult, because everywhere I go today and every person I meet will be at the vortex of his grace. I get to be another "extender of his grace" in an un-hospitable world.

I love how Eugene Peterson translates, 3 John 1:5..."Dear friends, when you extend hospitality to Christian brothers and sisters, even when they are strangers, you make the faith visible."

Here is the bottom line...when we are "hospitable" we are "making the faith visible." Who knew it could be fun to make the faith visible by simply being hospitable?

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Cheers

The jingle was familiar...you recognized it when it came on television.


Making your way in the world today takes everything you got.
Taking a break from all your worries, sure would help a lot.

Wouldn't you like to get away?

Sometimes you want to go

Where everybody knows your namee,
and they're always glad you came.
You wanna be where you can see,
our troubles are all the same
You wanna be where everybody knows
Your name.

For eleven seasons, Cheers entertained America with a story set in a Boston tavern. There were the normal brand of everyday people who came through the doors of the bar bearing an untold story. The more familiar ones were greeted as they walked in while others were tolerated.

Last evening I was reading Eugene Peterson's new book entitled, The Pastor. In the book he traces his journey from his fathers' butcher shop through his days as a pastor and eventually his days back in his childhood home of Montana. It is a refreshing read.

He describes his understanding of "congregational" atmosphere and what it should feel like.

Congregation is composed of people, who, upon entering a church, leave behind what people on the street name them or call them. A church can never be reduced to a place where goods and services are exchanged. It must never be a place where people are labeled. It can never be a place where gossip is perpetuated. Before anything else, it is a place where a person is named and greeted, whether implicitly or explicitly, in Jesus' name. A place where dignity is conferred. p.40

Gary Portnoy and Judy Hart Angelo wrote the words to the Cheers intro song. Every time I hear them, I wonder if they should be played as people walk through the doors of churches everywhere.

Eugene Peterson is right...a church can never be  reduced to a place where goods and services are exchanged. It must be a place where, "everybody knows your name, and they're always glad you came."

Today is Palm Sunday and I am headed out to worship the One who "knows my name!" See you at the House!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Dancin'

On Sunday April 3rd my wife and I were in Houston, Texas for the wedding reception of our nephew and his new wife.It was a great weekend to be with family and to enjoy their joy of a new life together. We celebrated and did all of the things that you do at a wedding reception.


Sunday morning we had the incredible opportunity to attend their church as a family. They attend the North Campus of Second Baptist Church in Houston.  It is a great church making a powerful impact on greater Houston.


Reading the bulletin, there was an advertisement for an event called "Dance Your Shoes Off" to be held on Sunday, April 10th at Discovery Green at 3 pm.


I read with great interest the following..."hundreds of participants will dance to celebrate Christ's resurrection in downtown Houston. It's not to late to sign up and learn the routine on line." The pastor also encouraged people to stay after the morning service for more information if you were interested.


A person from the church had written the "dance music" for those who would participate.


Think of it....a church that wants to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus by holding a dance party on the square in Houston. And they were going to "dance their shoes off" literally.


Well it happened...

video

2,000 people danced and donated  their shoes....they literally "danced their shoes off."

Makes me feel like dancin' as I prepare for Palm Sunday and Holy Week...Thanks Second Baptist for telling the message of the season through dancin'!"

Do you think those who experienced the Resurrection news first hand "danced their shoes off?"

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Suffixes

I love the English language...It is not an easy language to learn and even more difficult to master. I am learning it daily and will never master it.

Consider the I Love Lucy episode where Lucy tried to teach her husband the different pronunciations to the following words;


Tough
Dough
Through

This language lesson nearly cost them their television marriage and provided laughs for those that have struggled with syntax, pronunciation and parts of speech.

This morning I was thinking about two simple suffixes that make a huge difference.

The first suffix is "-ed" and the second suffix is "-ing"

Here are some examples of the same word with each of the suffixes.

Lived or Living...there is a big difference between the two of these...One is on a gravestone the other isn't. We have a choice...Enough said.

Loved or Loving....there is a big difference between the two of these...Our families, friends and colleagues know which is which in our lives even though we may not. Ouch!

Served or Serving...there is a big difference between the two of these...watch the next time people get together for conversation and a meal. I like to be served, but that is upside down when I consider His call.

Saved or Saving....there is a big difference between the two of these...I know a lot of the first and I am seeing a lot of the second who authentically live out their faith commitments. I used to say, "I am saved,""saved." more and more I am convinced that I am being

There a  thousand other words whose meanings change when different suffixes are added. 

"-ed" indicates past tense and "-ing" means progressive or continuous action.

What would happen if our lives were "progressive" and lives of "continuous action" rather than lived in the "-ed" of past tense?

Consider words that describe your life and ask if they have a "-ed" or "-ing" suffix. It is never to late to make your life an "-ing" life in a world that values and treasures "-ed." 

I am head-"ing" out to face the world...I am keeping my eyes open for "-ing" experiences!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Attention

Recently someone said to me, "I think God is trying to get my attention. I think he wants me to do something specific, I just don't know what it is."

Admittedly, I have felt that frustrating feeling before. 

All of this has made me think. I really believe God is trying to get our attention, however, I don't think he is always trying to get our attention to "do" something. I think sometimes he is trying to get our attention for the sake of having our attention.

Often times we think He is calling us for some specific task, so we labor over trying to discover what it is when maybe all He is trying to do is to call us and get our attention. Maybe he wants us to have "seeking hearts" and "be fully present" in his Presence.

Several years ago I had the privilege of attending graduation ceremonies for a young Marine at Parris Island, South Carolina. Young men marched onto the parade grounds and a tough drill instructor barked orders and called the Marines to attention. It was interesting to watch. The order was given...."Attention" and every Marine stood poised, facing forward, fully attentive awaiting the next order. It was obvious he had their attention.

I am not suggesting that God is a Marine Drill Instructor, although many people perceive God that way. I am offering that God wants our attention. Sometimes in the midst of trying to discern what God is saying or trying to figure out what God wants us to do, we can miss the simple fact that all He wants is our attention.

So today, I am going to give Him my full attention. I am not going to try to figure out what He wants me to "do" at the expense of failing to be attentive.

Marines know the opposite of "Attention" is "At Ease." That is what happens when He has our attention. We can be "At Ease."  Try it today, you will be pleasantly surprised!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Lazy

I just returned from the annual gathering of fellow pilgrims...pastors...saints...apprentices and seekers. In our tribe we call this event District Assembly. It is a two day gathering to rehearse the activity of God in our communities of faith, it is a time to explore the terrain of God's grace in our fields of service, and it is a time to think about the whisperings of God as we look to the future.

I have been attending these meetings for over twenty five years. They have had a similar rhythm for as long as I can remember and yet this year was different. Like bookends, the gathering opened with a challenging reminder to extend the borders of the Kingdom through planting house churches and congregations and concluded with a stirring concert of prayer to seek the face of God for the task that lies ahead of us.

In between there were reports, videos, reports, offerings, reports, voting, reports, financial appeals and reports. Did I mention "reports?"

One of the saddest reports from the whole gathering was made by a fellow pastor who had failed to meet the requirements of submitting a written report for his local vineyard. It seemed like we were nearing the end of the reporting and a final appeal was made for anyone who had not reported. 

Someone pointed out the fact that "he" had not reported. So his name was called. Sheepishly he stumbled from his seat and mumbled under his breath, "I know, I know...I didn't turn a report in, I'm just a lazy pastor."

Say what?  

It is one thing to be a "lazy pastor" and another thing to admit it under your breath to colleagues. I was saddened by his words and wonder about the circumstances surrounding his failure to submit a written report. The temptation is to judge and make sweeping generalizations about why he had not met his obligation. 

Then I stopped.

Behind every sigh and idle word is a story. Could it be that there was a legitimate reason for his appeared negligence and the only way he knew how to diffuse his embarrassment was to make a humorous comment? Could it be that he allowed other things to get in the way? I don't know.

Here is what I learned in between the challenging opening message and the concert of prayer...if I am going to quickly judge another person without knowing the whole story, I may minimize my effectiveness to live out the Story that I am called to proclaim. 

He gave his report and it seemed a little depressing. It probably wasn't, but I had difficulty hearing what he said, because of his opening comments under his breath. I pray that this year will be filled with the "applause of heaven" over his ministry efforts so he can report next year on time and with gusto.  What I pray for him, I pray for myself and my fellow shepherds. See you next year at the Assembly.