Friday, September 28, 2007

Another Story...

I know it's been a long time since I've posted, but this quote and the article around it are worth the wait. The quote is from Will Willimon, one of the men I chatted with on Sabbatical. He sums up succintly what I am finding is one of the core truths that needs to be grasped as we learn to be disciples of Jesus...and help others do the same.
To be a Christian means gradually, Sunday after Sunday, to be subsumed into another story, a different account of where we have come from and where we are going, a story that is called “gospel.” You are properly called a “Christian” when it’s obvious that the story told in Scripture is your story above all other stories that the world tries to impose upon you and the God who is rendered in Scripture is the God who has got you. (William H. Willimon)
Read his whole post here.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Learner or Knower?

“In times of change the learners will inherit the earth while the knowers will find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.” --Eric Hoffer

Thanks to Len at NextReformation for the quote.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Some songs...

...are so relevant that it's scary. Enjoy a Father's Lullaby.

And just so moms don't feel left out...

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Couldn't have said it better myself...

Brad Bergfalk writes -
I consider myself one of the luckiest persons alive because I get paid to do what I love. Even though there are times when the challenges of what I love exceeds my capacity to keep from complaining about it, I still consider being a pastor one of the best vocations around.

Read why here.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Beware your bias...

I am constantly reminded of how where I live exerts a bias on how I interpret reality. We all have a bias...and because of that we should be slow to jump to the conclusion that we understand anything completely. I found a quote by Lesslie Newbigin today that just reminded me of this fact.
"My confession of Jesus as Lord is conditioned by the culture of which I am a part. It is expressed in the language of the myth within which I live. Initially I am not aware of this as a myth. As long as I retain the innocence of a thoroughly western man, unshaken by serious involvement in another culture, I am not aware of this myth. It is simply 'how things are'...No myth is seen as a myth by those who inhabit it: It is simply the way things are." (Christ and Cultures, pg.3)

Beware your bias. Ask God for wisdom to see from the perspective of another. You might be surprised at what you find.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Technology and the world it is making.

Angela and I had a fascinating conversation with some friends the other night about the way that technology is changing our world. As you look at some of the fairly new tools that the internet offers (like MySpace and Facebook), it leads to some pretty interesting ideas. One of the main ones is that these websites are changing the way that a generation relates to each other. One of my friends commented that the effect of the relational network sites is much like that of alcohol. They remove the social inhibitors that control so much of our behavior. When you are face to face with another individual you are less likely to tell them everything that you think. Their presence causes you to choose your words more carefully. That's a good thing. Another aspect of this is the image that you present of yourself to the world. On Facebook or MySpace you select an image or persona that you want people to see you as. Often it is not the persona that you are or that you present in face to face conversations. The danger is that this is allowing people to develop inauthentic relationships by pretending to be someone or something that they are not.

Another element of technology is that it keeps us more connected. We can't get away from each other. Youth today are cemented in the lives of their peers. They "text" each other almost non-stop. They spend countless hours communicating online. These changes will have impact.

As I have been thinking about this I came across a couple of posts from Bob Hyatt at Pastor Hacks. He quotes the following from Ruth Hayley Barton's book, Sacred Rhythms.

"One of the new challenges for our generation is the impact of technology on our spirituality. This warrants serious consideration. If we are not careful, technology has a way of compromising our ability to be present to ourselves, to God and to each other- all of which are fundamental elements of the spiritual life. I don't know about you, but I am sad when I have set aside time to be with friends and, because a cell phone is left on, we are at the mercy of all manner of intrusion. We think nothing of taking phone calls in the middle of meetings, restaurants and family gatherings. I am disturbed by my own compulsion to check email late at night and first thing in the morning. When left unchecked, this lack of discipline imperceptibly robs me of rest in the evening and silent presence to God in the morning. I can become exhausted by the intrusion of the media and technology into every corner of my life, resulting in constant overstimulation of body, mind and emotions. All of this convenience wears me out!

Exhaustion sets in when we are accessible too much of the time. A soul-numbing sadness comes when we realize that a certain quality of life and quality of presence is slipping away as a result of too much "convenience." Breaks in the day that used to be small windows of replenishment for body and soul- like driving in a car, going for a walk, having lunch with a friend- are now filled with noise, interruption and multi-tasking. What feels like being available and accessible is really a boundaryless existence that offers no protection for those things that are most precious to us....No wonder we feel disconnected from God: we are rarely able to give Him our full attention in solitude and silence. Thoughtful reflection is constantly sabotaged by the intrusion of cell phones, pagers and e-mail messages. No wonder our human relationships are so unsatisfying as they get reduced to snippets of interrupted, disembodied phone conversation.

What feels like convenience is actually robbing us of those things we value most. We are left with bits and pieces of everything rather than experiencing the full substance of anything."

"It's not that I am averse to technology; I too have a cell phone, an office phone, a home phone and an email address, and they are much needed. However, I am aware of longings that run much deeper than what technology can address. I am noticing that the more I fill my life with the convenience of technology, the emptier I become in the places of my deepest longing. I long for the beauty and substance of being in the presence of those I love, even though it is less convenient. I long for spacious, thoughtful conversation even though it is less efficient. I long to be connected with my authentic self, even though it means being inaccessible to others at time. I long to be one who waits and listens deeply for the still, small voice of God, even if it means I must unplug from technology in order to become quiet enough to hear.

Constant noise, interruption and drivenness to be more productive cut us off from or at least interrupt the direct experience of God and other human beings, and this is more isolating than we realize. Because we are experiencing less meaningful and divine connection, we are emptier relationally, and we try harder and harder to fill that loneliness with even more noise and stimulation. In so doing we lose touch with the quieter and more subtler experiences of God within. This is a vicious cycle indeed." (Italic emphasis mine - JK)

All these thoughts have led to the realization that the technologies that we choose to embrace will shape who we become. The trouble with this is that the fruit of the particular technology often takes a generation to surface. As you're probably noticing, recently my reflections on these types of things have come in poetic form. So here's another one..."Ode to the Cellular Phone."

Behold the tiny cell phone
All the gifts it brings to you
Technological convenience
Talking, texting, surfing too

We talk more than we ever have
In freedom now to roam
Sending words over the airwaves
In a crowd or all alone

Saying more yet knowing less
Many contacts, fewer friends
Lives filled with surface conversations
When we can squeeze them in

Constant wireless communication
Merits quiet contemplation

Shallow words breed shallow minds
Which left unchecked yield shallow lives

We make things then they make us
All our tools will one day be
The hammers and the chisels
That give shape to you and me

The future’s born of our inventions
This despite our best intentions

So beware the innovation
For which the masses stand in line
Progress is a word
That takes a long time to define

Be careful how you define progress, for it will slowly and subtly define you.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Doing something foolish

I spend a lot of my time foolishly. Sometimes I wish I could stop, but it seems to come from deep within me. Most people don’t understand why I give so much energy to it. Sometimes it even causes me pain. I’d love to stop, but it’s a part of my DNA, maybe even my “calling”.

I am a preacher.

I’m not alone in my assessment of preaching. Those outside the church see it as a royal waste of time at best, and at worst, a way to manipulate by shoveling guilt on mindless listeners. Even those in the church make jokes about the sermon. “If all the people who feel asleep listening to sermons were laid end to end…they’d be a lot more comfortable!”

You’d think the one place I could find support would be among my own, but even many of my colleagues question the validity of what we do. Some are calling it a thing of the past. They see the sermon as a relic that is best put on the shelf. Keep it polished and dusted so that people can appreciate it, but it really has no practical use. They keep saying that there is no value in one person speaking to the multitudes. All spiritual journeys are different. How can one man speak with any authority in the spiritual lives of others? We need to journey together and that means that no one gets to talk more than anyone else, right? Anything else would be foolish.

The Apostle Paul used an interesting word for what we do – “foolishness”. (I Cor. 1:18). But he was quick to clarify, It’s foolish, but not to those who actually hear it. Not to those whose lives are transformed. And maybe that’s the heart of the problem. We see a lot of preaching in North America, but we’re not so overwhelmed by the transformation. If anything, preaching is more accessible than ever, thanks to the TV, internet, IPODs, etc. Moral character and Christ-likeness, however, seem to be in short supply. One of the reasons many have given up on preaching is that it seems to be so ineffective. We’ve all spent time listening to a great orator motivate us to be what we all really want to be, but something happens on Tuesday afternoon, when the words and emotions of Sunday seem so far away. If preaching is valuable, and I believe it is, then it needs to do more than just talk. It needs to transform. Lives need to change. And that’s a tall order. (I have some thoughts about how that transformation happens, but I save them for a later post.)

For now let's just say, contrary to much popular opinion, it's something that I still believe is worth giving my life to.

I found a good quote this week (thanks to Unashamed Workman) that was obviously written by a person who understands this weird thing that preachers do.

“The pulpit calls those who are appointed to it like the sea calls its sailor; and like the sea, it batters and bruises, and it does not rest….To preach, to really preach, is to die naked a little at a time, and to know that each time you do it, that you must do it again.” (Bruce Thielmann)

So I'll keep at it. And love it. Even when nobody understands why.

Friday, July 27, 2007

The Incredible Incarnation

I've been reflecting on the hope of the Incarnation for several months now. The fact that God has chosen to redeem and renew in the particular way He has chosen to do it (God becoming man) is one of the key ideas that inspires hope for me on a day to day basis.

My thoughts and reflections culminated in what you read below. My prayer is that it would inspire in you even a glimmer of the hope we have in a God who works in ways that are radically different than what we might expect.

Hope Incarnate

The greatest mystery known to me,
(If mystery truly known can be),
Is that in human flesh and bone
God would come to make a home.

What novelist could make this up?
Power poured in paper cup,
Helpless babe in feed trough laid
Whose very word the earth had made

If God would stoop to this degree,
Then maybe there is hope for me.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Food for thought...

I've really been enjoying Willzhead lately. He pointed me to a list by Rod Dreher of The Crunchy Conservative. The list contains five things that Rod no longer believes as a result of the Iraq war. You can read the list for yourself here, but I personally want to highlight the first item. Rod writes,

1. Having been absolutely certain that the war was the right thing to have done, and that we would prevail easily, I am no longer confident that I can discern when emotion is affecting my judgment unduly.
If nothing else, can we all admit that we have a really tough time drawing completely objective conclusions, especially when we are afraid to listen to differing opinions. If Jesus is the truth, and if the truth will set us free, then why are we afraid to actively look for the truth everywhere. Why is it so hard to be teachable? Why the refusal to admit that often we choose based on what we want instead of what is really true? Why are we so quick to arrive at conclusions and then to dismiss the thoughts of those we don't agree with? Thanks Rod, for helping us remember that just because we think/feel like we are 100% right, a little humility is always wise.

And I can say without a doubt that I have reached this conclusion in a purely objective manner. If you disagree then you'd better smarten up! :)

Teenage Affluenza

Interesting video. Take some time to watch it and show it to those around you.

Thanks to Willzhead for the link...

Friday, June 15, 2007

A Fearless Finder of Words...

I really loved this quote.
"The poet's job is to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth, in such a beautiful way that people cannot live without it, to put into words those feelings we all have that are so deep, so important, and yet so difficult to name. The poet's job is to find a name for everything: to be a fearless finder of the names of things: to be an advocate for the beauty of language, the subtleties of language."

-- Jane Kenyon, poet, A Hundred White Daffodils (Greywolf Publishing)

I think that to some degree, all Christians are called to be poets - fearlessly finding words about Jesus that deeply impact those who hear them. Walter Brueggemann, who I met with on sabbatical, constantly stresses that the only words that can really convey God are poetic words. God cannot be reduced to principles and propositions...the only words that do Him justice are poetry.

Kenyon's quote and Brueggemann's ideas inspired me to write this...
One Day...

Humor the begging poet
Gathering his word scraps,
Envisioning a feast.

For one day
When your cup of reason breaks
You may find yourself hungry
Longing for his table.

Words about God should touch us deeply and change us. What an honor and responsibility to share those types of words with the world.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Ever been misunderstood?

Here's another poem I've written.

"What you tried to say"

A word is just a bucket
That you fill with what you mean
An unusual transaction
Not as simple as it seems

For when you pass that bucket
To another on the way
They drink up what they think you mean
From what you tried to say

Further thoughts that may get me in trouble...

Wow, my blog entry (and the discussion that has ensued...both online, via email, and in person) sure has stirred my thinking. My nephew Matt (who is articulate, intelligent, and one of the few people I would support in a run for the President of the US) took some time to write about the history of "The Pledge." It was very educational. He writes,
"Your conflict over pledging allegiance to the flag is not really a new phenomenon. The Jehovah's Witness' have always said that such an action conflicts with their faith. They claim that it creates a graven image and cite the book of Exodus. There was a lot of hoopla about this in the 1940's and the Supreme Court of the US handed down several opinions regarding the rights of Americans not to salute the American flag or say the pledge.

Initially the Court held that Jehovah's Witnesses should be required to salute the flag or pledge to the flag (Gobitis decision), but it later overturned this ruling in West Va Board of Education v. Barnette. In these decisions the Court came to in the end, I think, the right decision. First, it held that people do not have to recite the pledge, but second that the purpose of the pledge was never to supersede any religious commitments. This decision was furthered a couple of years later when the words "under God" were added into the pledge. I think the reasoning of why these words were added is also worth considering in describing the purpose and scope of the pledge of allegiance.

The story goes that President Eisenhower was initially opposed to the phrase "under God" being added to the pledge until he had a conversation with a pastor about the issue. The pastor told him that in the current pledge nothing differentiated us from the Soviets or any other pagan nation. He basically voiced the same concerns that you had, that we're pledging allegiance to a nation and not to our sovereign God whose provision has sustained our nation, an admittedly legitimate concern. This one conversation changed Eisenhower's perspective, and several weeks later (on Flag Day ironically enough) he signed into law this important change to the pledge of allegiance. I think that the words that Ike spoke on that day are significant as well. He said that:

'From this day forward, the millions of our schoolchildren will daily proclaim in every city and town, every village and rural schoolhouse, the dedication of our nation and our people to the Almighty. '

He also later wrote that:

'These words ["under God"] will remind Americans that despite our great physical strength we must remain humble. They will help us to keep constantly in our minds and hearts the spiritual and moral principles which alone give dignity to man, and upon which our way of life is founded.'

Eisenhower even labeled the pledge as a "public prayer." I go through all of this to show that the pledge of allegiance was not intended to be an open profession of allegiance to only the United States of America or to the actions of its government. It was never purposed to show unwavering support for the whims of men and women in America's government, like the current war in Iraq. That's never been and should not be the purpose of it. If it was, I would not pledge allegiance to it. A perspective such as this ignores the rich history of our country and this simple pledge. This voluntary pledge recognizes that our nation exists because of God and under God. It says that we have the freedom we enjoy and take for granted because of God. It acknowledges our nation's reliance on God. And most importantly, it recognizes God's provision for our nation and asks for His continued care. The history of the pledge is to me amazing.

I agree that the meaning of the pledge has been lost by many in the move to be politically correct. Most people have forgotten the true history of our pledge completely. But the pledge is what you make it to be. I think the Gobitis Court said it best when it wrote that "there is no doubt that, in connection with the pledges, the flag salute is a form of utterance...(but) a person gets from a symbol the meaning he puts into it." Thus, I personally have no problem saluting my flag for the simple reason that the salute reaffirms that my nation is itself "under God." Thus my religious commitments are not superseded by this statement, but are instead strongly confirmed. When I say my pledge to my country, I am expressing not only my love for my country, but I'm also acknowledging that the freedom that I so enjoy comes only through my Saviour's grace and love. The history of this pledge is so telling."

See, I told you he was amazing. And while I really don't want to talk much more about the pledge (I won't discuss it here after this), I give you the following paragraph in order to clarify some of the questions raised from the last blog. I am begining to understand that for many, the pledge is what you make it, and that history has much to say to that. The danger for me comes in that for many others, it’s also what they make it to be. In any communication, meaning is determined to a great degree by those who hear the communication. When the rest of the world sees the church pledging allegiance to the flag of the US, we should probably not be surprised that they draw some unusual conclusions in regards to what Christianity entails. I think my jealousy for the use of words (See my blog entry on that issue) is one of the things that makes me uneasy with the pledge. Eisenhower realized, thanks to some counsel, that apart from the phrase “under God”, the pledge was no different than any other secular oath. My fear is that the balance of the pledge comes to shape what “under God” means. In a nutshell, I think that if the pledge is to be a prayer for our country, then I would prefer to pray it to God, not begin by affirming my allegiance to a flag that has a huge diversity of "meanings" to people around the world. It’s interesting that this issue rose to the top, as it was such a small part of the blog that I wrote.

READER ALERT - I am about to venture into what I call "thinking out loud"! These are statements and questions that are floating around in my head at this time. You may not agree with these ideas...but guess what? I may not either. This blog is a way of helping me sort them through. I'd love to hear your perspectives (Especially you Kimberly Clark people) so feel free to comment below. It will help me in the process to hear from you. Now...back to our regularly scheduled programming.

The blog surfaced out of my internal conflicts arising from living in the US again. I often feel like someone who has brought a non-Christian to church for the first time. As you sit with your guest you begin to see the rituals and the traditions from a whole new perspective. You may even wonder if some of the things we do in church actually make it harder for new comers to understand and discern why we are there. In a similar way, my time outside the US has challenged my thinking. Many of my Canadian non-Christian friends have a very warped view of Christianity largely because of what they see as the amalgamation of Christianity and government in the US. That makes me (in my discussions with them regarding Jesus) quick to define Christianity apart from being an American. To my dismay, I have realized anew that there is a growing effort in the US to link the two. From a Canadian perspective, a church endorsing (even implicitly) the killing of thousands of Iraqi civilians (some say hundreds of thousands) in order to maintain freedom (which is often equated to freedom to worship or economic prosperity), it seems that we are little different from the fundamentalists Muslims who will kill to advance their faith.

As I have written before (see here and here), I am very concerned about the use (and overuse) of words. I think that often we speak too quickly. We don’t understand the intricacies of meaning. We adopt words because we have assigned a meaning to them and we assume that others assign the same meaning. One word that I have come to wonder about lately is the word “freedom”. What does it mean? It is used repeatedly in America. We are fighting for freedom. We are free. We want others to be free. But what does that mean? Does it mean freedom of opportunity? Does it mean economic prosperity? Does it mean personal autonomy, or at least greater autonomy than would exist in other places?

And how does it relate to the Biblical use of the word? “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” (Gal. 5:1, NIV) Is the freedom that the Bible speaks of related to the freedom that Americans mean when they say “Freedom isn’t free”? Are we commanded as believers to pursue freedom, and if so, what type of freedom should we pursue? If we are free, does that mean that we have been given this freedom as a blessing from God? What about others who aren’t free? Have they not been given the same blessing? Why not? Is our “freedom” a result of spiritual obedience? Have others been disobedient? The early church had no freedom like that of present day America, is that a significant fact?

I have concern that we have accepted the word "freedom" without critically thinking about what it means. Let me give you one of the implications of this that troubles me personally. If by freedom we mean some combination of opportunity and prosperity, does our freedom give believers a right to kill (or to support killing) in order to defend it?

How do we approach this issue of “our freedom” without wrestling with the words of Jesus, “…take up your cross…lay down your life…”? I think one of the major problems in working through these ideas is the difference between “Empire” and “The Kingdom of God”. (For a really good introduction to the tension between Kingdom and Empire you should listen to my brother Mike talk about it here.) I fully believe that an Empire should, at times, fight. I think the US was (to some degree) morally justified in entering Afghanistan. And I do greatly treasure the freedoms that I have in this "Empire" and count as EXTREMELY precious the lives that were given to allow my freedoms. The Kingdom of God, however, calls me to lay down my rights (and even my freedoms) so that the Kingdom may expand into the lives of others. I think it’s fair to say that the Kingdom has never been advanced by the Empire’s use of force. That’s why the church needs to be ever vigilant when it comes to endorsing the means of Empire. We have to work within the Empire, and we have to seek the good of the Empire. A example of this was the Jewish exile in Babylon. They were commanded to pray for and to seek the prosperity of Babylon. The challenge comes when the Empire agenda and the Kingdom agenda collide.

This puts believers in a very difficult position, especially ones who are called to play a leadership role in the Empire (like my nephew). I’m not sure how all that plays out and I guess I’m excited to watch him walk that journey…so I can learn (His passion for politics is only surpassed by his passion for Jesus).

I will admit that I’m glad that’s not my calling. At the same time, however, I am very thankful that it is his.

P.S. If you don't like my lack of concrete answers in this post please reread the disclaimer that I make in the upper right hand corner of my blog...

"I fully realize that I've not succeeded at answering all your questions. Indeed I feel that I've not answered any of them completely. The answers I have found only work to raise a whole new set of questions which only lead to more questions - some of which we weren't even aware were problems in the first place. To sum up -- in some ways I feel that we are as confused as ever, but I do believe that we are confused on a higher level and about more important things." (Unknown)

Monday, June 11, 2007

A Triple Header...

Okay, some of you may find this a little unusual, but we went to church 3 times yesterday. It was awesome. Our first service was at what has been our home church here - Shades Mountain Independent. We are part of an amazing Sunday School Class and the kids just love their classes too. It's so nice to hear them chattering after class about how much they learned and how much they enjoyed it. For the Worship Service the Sr. Pastor was away. The Worship/Music Pastor preached. He always does an amazing job by bringing together a choir, orchestra, and soloists in a worshipful way, but who would have known he's an awesome preacher too. His name is Kevin Moore and the sermon is really worth should show up here eventually. He used a great example of showing mercy...see the video clip here.

After church we grabbed lunch and did some shopping, and then made our way to Red Mountain Church for the 4:00 pm service. We heard about this church due to its music. For some samples go here. They only sing old hymns (like 1800's old) but have set them all to very contemporary music. They are also very liturgical, which provides for a clear focus during worship. We loved it as well.

From there we headed back to Shades Mtn. for the evening prayer service. An amazing day. All this week the kids are either volunteering or participating at Day Camp/Vacation Bible School at Shades Mtn. While we're happy to call GBC home, there are some awesome churches in Birmingham!!

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Love this bumpersticker...

If you don't know who Lucy Pevensie should find out!

Immerse Me in Your Story, God.

Update (6/11/07)- My wife wants me to add that I wrote this...and since she's so pretty I will comply. Hope you like it...(Jeff)

Immerse me in your story God.
From tempting fruit and serpent’s lies.
To Abraham with knife held high
And heart that longs to die.

Fill me with the joy he knew
When ram was laid upon the stone
Isaac journeyed with Him home
To Sarah’s laughing smile

Immerse me in your story God
Shepherd boy ascends to throne
Giant killer, five smooth stones
Your power through the weak

How beautiful the twist of plot
From lustful king to heart like yours
Broken vessel from which you pour
Yourself – in poet’s prayers

Immerse me in your story God
The prophets ate your book and said
Words to those who wished them dead
Who often got their wish

In death they told your story well
What others didn’t want to see
A prophet saw with clarity
My hope - To have their eyes

Can these bones live?
You know, O Lord, they can.

Your WORD has come, and story told
A story quiet, story free
Life from death, sweet irony
Renewing all who hear

Far more than words on page, in air
They aren’t just heard, they shape
Add to me as well as take
Like breath to dead bones giv’n

A story told with joyful pain.
Describing who I am to be, undoing, captivating me
The me my dark eyes can’t yet see
The me you’re telling me to be

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Not just's suicide.

Anyone who writes can appreciate the beauty of a well turned phrase. There is something powerful about the way words are put together. Recently I've been listening to a song by Derek Webb (we saw him live here). It's called "This too shall be made right." There is a strong prophetic edge to this song. It cuts to the core of the way we live our lives and yet pulls back the curtain on hope...this too shall be made right. That's why we long for the Kingdom. Here's the lyric...the music and his voice add to the effect. It's worth buying the song from Itunes...

people love you the most for the things you hate
and hate you for loving the things that you cannot keep straight
people judge you on a curve and tell you you’re getting what you deserve
this too shall be made right

children cannot learn when children cannot eat
stack them like lumber and children cannot sleep
children dream of wishing wells whose waters quench all the fires of Hell
this too shall be made right

the earth and the sky and the sea are all holding their breath
wars and abuses have nature groaning with death
we say we’re just trying to stay alive but it looks so much more like a way to die
this too shall be made right

there’s a time for peace and there is a time for war
a time to forgive and a time to settle the score
a time for babies to lose their lives a time for hunger and genocide
this too shall be made right

I don’t know the suffering of people outside my front door
I join the oppressors of those who i choose to ignore
I’m trading comfort for human life and that’s not just murder it’s suicide
this too shall be made right

Thursday, May 31, 2007

The Use and Abuse of Words...

We abuse what we overuse. We overuse words. Like the squeaky door or the leaky faucet, we notice it at first. But with continued neglect we can learn to ignore it. So are words. They have meaning. They have value. But their overuse can dilute their power. As a preacher I am jealous for words. They are all I have to describe and communicate that which is really beyond description and communication. Their power is important to me. Their abuse makes my job more difficult. Barbara Brown Taylor in her amazing little book, When God is Silent, uses words quite effectively to describe what I am writing about. She says,

“In our lifetimes, language has taken a terrible hit…There is first the assault of consumerism, which forces words to make promises they can’t keep…words are chosen not for their truthfulness, but for their seductiveness. What they mean is beside the point. What they seem to mean is all that counts…

While it is really a variety of consumerism, journalism has launched its own assault on language…The attack is not so much on the truthfulness of words as it is on their longevity. At my house, pounds of The New York Times and Wall Street Journal are tossed aside with whole sections unread. My guilt over this is softened by the knowledge that the newsprint will have a second life. Once a month I haul it to the county recycling center, where it is shredded into cheap bedding for local chicken houses. After the chickens are through with it, I am told, it is feed to cows who somehow benefit from the nutrients in it. That yesterday’s forty-eight-point headline becomes tomorrow’s cow food is a process that is as pragmatic as it is strange. The moral is that there is no sense getting attached to the news, not to the realities a reporter’s words represent. How did that community recover from the hurricane? What happened to the children after their mother died of AIDS?...Don’t ask. Just let it go. There will be more stories tomorrow that are just as compelling. The word is transitory, cheap….

A third assault on the nobility of language is the sheer proliferation of words with which most of us are faced each day…The words keep coming at us through an ever-expanding variety of media – so many words that some days it sounds as it we live our lives against a wall of constant noise…The most unfortunate side-effect of all the noise is that many of us have become hard of hearing. We learn to filter out words that are not necessary to our lives the same way we learn to sleep in a house near railroad tracks. Our brains protect us from the daily barrage of words by increasing our resistance to them.” (p. 9-14)

Taylor’s point is that we stop listening and start filtering. We don’t hear the words. Does it bother anyone that we say we “love” ice cream, we “love” American Idol, and we “love” God? We use words without thinking about their meaning. I don’t have a way out of this dilemma, I’m better at identifying problems than solving them, but I think we have to agree that in a world drenched with words, the danger of meaning being washed away is real.

A couple stands before me, the minister, as they make bold promises. Vows about sickness and health, wealth and poverty, till death do us part. My biggest challenge at that moment is to help them see that the words they utter have deep and profound meaning. They are not the same words the used car salesman uses. It’s easy to ignore his words, deadly to ignore theirs. We have to learn to speak more slowly, more deliberately, with meaning. Perhaps the doorway to re-valuing our words is to take some time to sit in silence. To reflect on what we say. To listen to what is being said to us. Just as fasting helps us to value our food, a fast from words may bring clarity to our speaking and our hearing.

For a preacher it means realizing that most of the time less is more. (Is that a hearty AMEN I hear from the blogosphere?) Sometimes in our passion to communicate the profound, we trivialize it with too many words. The beauty of God is somehow reduced to a product that we are hawking to the world, trying to convince them that this is finally the one thing that will really make their lives better. The Psalmist said, “Be still and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations. I will be exalted in the earth.” (Ps. 46:10)

The irony that I am writing a long blog entry to communicate this is not lost on me. But my hope is that this will make you think about words. Just maybe it will inspire you to take some time for silence. To retrain your ear to hear what you say and what is said to you.

If we get in the habit of ignoring words, there is great danger that the Word made flesh will pass us by without our noticing.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Questions in my head...

I hesitate to even write this blog entry. It is a reflection of what Angela and I have been talking about for the past several weeks. (When I write “I” you can read “we.”) I have started it in my head a thousand times, but the text gets garbled and I end up sending it to the trash can that I keep at the bottom right corner of my mental screen. The problem is that I can’t seem to empty it for good. I’d like to avoid it, but I think it’s time to put some words down in black and white. I have a zillion questions in my head. I have tried to sort through them and develop some type of cohesive writing that would state how I really feel about the issues. But the clarity escapes me. So I write with confusion. Be patient with me. Maybe writing will serve as my therapy.

It’s about America. I am American. I am thankful that I was born in this nation. It has afforded me freedoms and privileges that many in the world only dream of. I love this country. It is a part of who I am. But living here again has stirred up a lot of questions that I find most of those around me don’t seem to even wrestle with. It all came to a head yesterday. We went to church, a church that I love, and prepared our hearts to focus on God, His Kingdom, and our surrender to it. I forgot that it was Memorial Day week-end. I guess that was my first mistake. For those of you who don’t know what Memorial Day is, it’s a government holiday set aside to remember all US veterans, especially those who have died in service to their country. About 10 minutes of the service was focused on this, including a video presentation reminding us that “Freedom is not free!”. While the intent of Memorial Day is to honor veterans, the thrust of this part of the service was focused on OUR freedom, implying that the current military efforts in Iraq are keeping us free. What angered me was that there was not even a concern that fellow believers (I’m talking about Iraqi believers here), as well as other innocent lraqis were suffering and dying in order to “keep us free”. Any critical thought at all would have to admit that by freedom we mean economic good times. My daughter got a bracelet from her Sunday school teacher with “WWJD” on it – What Would Jesus Do? Would Jesus support the killing of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi’s (some believers and some who don’t know Jesus) in order to make sure that we can continue to live our lives of unrestrained materialism?

I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me just list some of the questions (and related thoughts) that are floating through my head.

1. What does it mean “we’re fighting for freedom”? Freedom for who? Freedom from what? What exactly is “our freedom?” What right do Christian’s have to allow the killing of others in order to preserve our freedom. See Bill Moyer’s video here.

2. What does it mean to “honor our troops”? I think one of the most noble actions is to offer your life for another. I respect the troops, their passion, bravery, and willingness to risk all for someone else. My father fought in Korea. I have always admired his willingness to lay down his life on behalf of others. I always will. But should that honor not mean that we take very seriously their offer? Should we not think long and hard about their sacrifice? Should we not make sure that they are only called to offer their lives for truth? Is economic freedom worth their blood? You can support the troops and yet question their commanding officers. See this article from the Washington Post.

3. What does it mean to be a patriot? I get the feeling from living here that it means that you do not question the government. Yet a patriot is, in my humble opinion, one who holds the government accountable for its actions. I have heard over and over again that our greatest threat is terrorism. Yet back in 2001 we lost 3,000 lives to terrorists and over 20,000 lives to homicide. Are the terrorists killing us, or are we killing ourselves? When George Bush says that we are going to “defeat terrorism” why isn’t the church reminding him that terrorism flows from the state of the heart. The US has no weapons that change the heart. The truth is that whatever we do in Iraq now will be a big mess. If we pull out, there will be a surge of Muslim support for Bin Laden, as well as an Iraq that will be further decimated by civil war. If we stay, we will lose more lives, take more lives, and further convince the Arab world that we will do anything to control them. You may criticize my thinking. You may disagree. But don’t call me unpatriotic. My questions are the heart of patriotism. It’s silence that destroys us. To refuse to wrestle with hard questions, to keep silent when decisions are made that have lasting implications, to cheapen the lives of those soldiers by not making sure that they are not given in vain - this is treason.

4. And finally, shouldn’t the church steer clear of patriotic celebrations? At the very least, shouldn’t we exercise great caution when making pulpit pronouncements about the actions of our country? How can we maintain a prophetic voice for the Kingdom of God when we accept the actions of our government without honest reflection as disciples of Jesus? We use words too loosely. We say things that we don’t mean. Can followers of Jesus really “pledge allegiance” to anything other than Him? As believers, we should know what it means for someone to offer their life for us. Jesus bought us with a price…His own blood. How then can we offer our allegiance to anything else?

The irony - It was also Pentecost Sunday, the day of the Christian Year where we remember that God not only came to earth as the Son, but that He lives in His followers as the Holy Spirit. This was barely mentioned. Are we not skewed when we offer support to what is at best a controversial war, and neglect the sacrificial death that has really changed everything?

I love the church I go to here. It’s made up of amazing people who are seeking Jesus and His leadership in their lives. I am sure that there are many who are more like Him than I am. But yesterday, corporately, they missed it. They gave time to something they felt strongly about, but something that pales in comparison to a God who would lay aside His freedom, to give them a freedom that is greater than anything America has to offer.

A God who calls us to do the same.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Without a doubt, the funniest...

... business slogan ever. I was driving in Birmingham today, following a sewage truck. Their business consists in emptying port-a-potties. Their slogan?

We're #1 in the #2 business!

Monday, May 14, 2007

Vision is overrated...

I’ve always wanted a comprehensive vision for my life. I think that everyone does. We want to see the big picture so that we make decisions that help us move forward. Christians will tell you that “where there is no vision people perish”. All the latest books on leadership shout out that vision is what brings people together. It’s what enables the “good” to become the “great”.

I long for vision, for clarity. I’ve always thought that it was the key to avoiding a wasted life. That is, until recently. I guess you could say that my vision of vision has shifted. Oh, I have ideas about life. Grand plans where the history books tell of the impact that I have made. Confidence in decisions that flows out of knowing who I am and why I am here. The problem is that these seem to be only ideas and not reality.

I’m losing vision. And I think that may be a good thing. Maybe in the absence of vision I have had to settle for something less. But then again, maybe less is more. Perhaps God is calling me away from vision to something greater - a glimpse. A glimpse of something that shapes who I am. As I reflect on life I can remember several moments where a “glimpse” caused me to become a different person. The late night prayer when I was seventeen. The realization of my own smallness that came from a view of mountains laid out before me like folds of a blanket God had tossed to the earth. Understanding what a “blessing” was as the most beautiful woman that I’d ever seen walked down the aisle to marry me. These moments, I have realized, are more than just good memories. They have been glimpses of God. Invitations to the throne room. I’ve seen Him in so many places and ways that I would never have expected. The struggle to find words to pray with friends as we looked out over the people living in the garbage dumps of Guatemala City. “Give us this day our daily bread…” The death of the first woman I had the privilege to baptize. The room was so silent after her last breath. Just me and her empty shell. In the silence I learned that I was the empty one, she was finally truly alive. My children singing as they wander through the house, completely unaware that their father is listening, joyfully humbled, bowing in worship to the God who made them.

All of these glimpses have shaped, and continue to shape me. They are like puzzle pieces, slowly giving me a more complete picture of Jesus, and thereby showing me the next steps that I need to take. Revealing to me who I am, who God is calling me to be. No, it’s not a vision. It’s a mosaic of glimpses. And like Mary, I store these moments up, pondering them in my heart, knowing that one day they may lead to a soul-piercing sword. But confident that the wounds bring a deeper healing. A healing that can’t come through a comprehensive vision. A healing that comes through a relationship with a God who shares glimpses of Himself in unlikely ways at unusual times. “Show me your glory” I say. And He does. In little doses. Glimpses.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Almost to the half-way point...

I realized as I was driving the kids to school today that in a week we'll be at the mid-point of the sabbatical. Time sure flies when you are having fun. I'm learning a lot and having time to slow down and reflect on things that usually don't get much time to rattle around in my head. I've not been blogging much. I could blame it on the fear of what Mike Davis might put in the comments, but I think that's not the case. Sometimes blogging just becomes another thing to do. I'm trying to focus on minimizing those kinds of things during the sabbatical.

Our usual routine is to get up early and head off to school. After I drop the kids at school (8:00 am), I head over to Samford. I split time there between my office and the library. Last week was amazing because of the time I spent with Dr. Calvin Miller. His most recent book has been awarded the honor of being "Preaching Magazine's Preaching Book of the Year" for 2007. He's an amazing guy who has opened his office and his life to me. (We're going to church with he and his wife Barbara this week, then to their house for lunch afterward.) It's been a great opportunity to talk with this man who has been both pastor and professor throughout the past 45 years. I have found it both very affirming and challenging to talk with him about this crazy thing called preaching.

Usually by lunch time I head home and pick up Ang. We spend the afternoon together hanging out, visiting the gym (Candi keeps dreaming up new physical forms of torture for us), or toodling around Birmingham. It's been nice to actually just sit with my wife and talk about things that don't have to do with my job. We're coming up on 15 years married next week and I am more convinced than ever that this was the best decision I ever made. I pick the kids up at 3:00. We come home from school and just hang out together. Believe it or not we still kinda like each other. Sometimes we head out to the library (Huge public library here...bigger than anything I've ever seen. (They have a movie theater in the library!) Or we stay home and work on their homework, watch a movie, or American Idol.

The kids go to bed pretty early (they have to get up @ 6:45 am for school). Then we all get up and do it again. From a family standpoint everything is a highlight. It's so nice to be able to just be.

The week-ends are fun because we have to plan them. I haven't had to plan a week-end since we moved to Hope. Where will we go to church? What will I do on Saturday since here are no weddings or funerals, and best of all, no yardwork. We've found an awesome church, Shades Mountain Independent Church. We always plug in there for Sunday School and then usually head out to other churches for the worship service. Best of both worlds...the kids are making good friends and we are trying out some different styles and types of churches.

So life is good. I still kind of shake my head and am amazed that we get to do this. Yes, we miss home and the people there. And we're excited to come back to Hope...just not yet.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Duh, no big surprise...

....but something you might like to check out.

What American accent do you have?
Your Result: The South

That's a Southern accent you've got there. You may love it, you may hate it, you may swear you don't have it, but whatever the case, we can hear it.

The Midland
The Inland North
The Northeast
The West
North Central
What American accent do you have?
Quiz Created on GoToQuiz

Friday, April 27, 2007

A Random Update...

Thought I should just do a quick update on how the sabbatical's going. In a word, it's awesome. We're having some great times as a family, we're able to rest and renew, and I'm having a blast at Samford. I totaled it up today and realized that I've read 16 books since we arrived here a month ago. Most have been on the area of preaching. I'm really focusing on the act of preaching. I think one of the problems with preaching is that we've tried to use it to educate rather than to help people encounter God. That's a simple take on my thinking. I'm meeting with Calvin Miller several times next week to talk about it. Probably not that exciting for most of you, but it really turns my crank.

I've also been reading a lot about (and by) Oscar Romero. He has intrigued me for quite some time and I'm finding digging into his life fascinating.

The surprise read was Tempting Faith by David Kuo. In the deep south faith and politics seem to meld into one thing. While I think that faith should shape your politics I find that a lot of what is happening here is the other way around. Politics is seeking to manipulate faith for it's own agenda. Faith is used to justify political positions. Kuo's book was a fascinating read and one that I would highly recommend.

So life is good. Family is loving life, other than school being pretty tough. You can read about all our exploits here. For me...lots of thinking...ideas swirling. I find that's what makes me happiest.
Thanks for reading. I'll keep you posted...

Sunday, April 15, 2007

What I learned from an Idol (American Idol, that is...)

As you may have read here, my wife and I recently braved Birmingham rush hour traffic to enable our kids to meet former American Idol contestant Ace Young. It was no small task. Hwy 280 out of town was three lanes (each direction) bumper to bumper for several miles. It was stressful. We had to be to the Wal-Mart by 5:00 pm or we would miss him. My pulse quickened. I looked for every possible short-cut. My normally mild-mannered disposition bordered on the verge of road rage. When we finally arrived (at 5:00 on the nose), I held out little hope that we'd made it in time. Celebrities have people who move them from place to place. They have schedules to keep, people to see. Sure enough, as my girls entered the store they could see Ace, but he was standing behind one of his "people" who was about 6'3" and close to 350 lbs. He told them clearly "No, we're done here." But size isn't everthing. The bodyguard was subjected to something in their eyes that has melted my fierce resolve far too many times. He softened and let them through. I was ecstatic. It was a great moment and I thoroughly enjoyed watching them meet this "star" they had seen so often through the TV screen. If I had to sum it up in a phrase I'd have to say that a good time was had by all.

As we drove away I started to reflect a bit on the expreience. I'm a pastor, reflecting on the spiritual lessons of life is what I do. Truth be told I never really cared much for Ace Young while he was on American Idol. I'm as much a sucker for celebrity as anyone, but Ace just never turned my crank. If it was up to me I wouldn't have walked around the block to meet him. Don't get me wrong, I liked him instantly as he talked with my children. He was amazingly warm and engaging for someone who had been a Wal-Mart commodity for the past two hours. But the only reason I went to incredible lengths to see him was because my children loved him. They thought he was awesome. I gave myself to the task because of their love for Ace.

As I thought it over I realized that there was a faint echo of something deeper here. God wanted to remind me of something from my "Idol" encounter. Sometimes we do unusual things out of love for someone else. We love people we aren't drawn to because someone that we love, loves them. My passion for seeing Ace had nothing to do with him and everything to do with my love for my kids. The truth that I began to realize was this - our love for people we aren't comfortable loving needs to flow from our love for God and His love for them. If we love God we will, by default, love those He loves. You can probably see where I am going with this. He loves everyone. He loves the jerk at work. He loves the freeloader taking advantage of the system. He loves the person who has wronged you, hurt you, betrayed you. Far too often I have tried to "drum up" love for people who have made my life difficult. But maybe what I need to do is remind myself to grow in love for God. As my love for Him deepens, maybe I'll feel a little more excited about the people He loves. I seem to remember Him saying something about whatever we do for the least of these we have done for Him. Maybe the inverse is true as well - what we do for Him we'll learn to do for the least of these...

If I can love Ace Young because my children love him, then surely love for God (who loved me first and greater than I could ever imagine ) can help me to love the people He loves.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

A Community of Faith…

I wrote in my last post about my feelings of “culture shock”. I have been surprised by just how different the culture is here. I find myself wishing it was like it was at home. Wondering what people are thinking…why they are doing what they are doing. The violence is overwhelming. Every newscast tells the story of another shooting in Birmingham. And like any city, in a ten to fifteen minute period you drive from palatial multi-million dollar homes with pools and tennis courts to the “projects” where houses are run down, burned out, and surrounded by garbage and broken down vehicles. It’s a long way from Hope, both geographically and metaphorically. I realize that the visible differences seem to press the idea that the people are different as well. But I think that at the heart of things, these beautiful, passionate, angry, loving, self-conscious people are really much like the people who live down the street from me in BC.

I have been encouraged to experience the church here. There is something refreshing about coming to a completely different context and seeing people moved by and passionate about the same things that have shaped me. Easter week was exciting as I participated with strangers who felt the pain of a God who would die out of love for a rebellious people. We mourned together the fact that we had caused this travesty. Then on Sunday we sang for joy as the Truth reminded us that not even our sin and stupidity can hinder God in accomplishing what He wants to do. The joy of the resurrection was every bit as real, even when filtered through a southern accent. There is a reassurance when you see that the Spirit of God is alive and well…and very much at work in a context different than your own. You begin to remember that this truth is way bigger than you are. That it impacts the core of the person…a core that is the same no matter where you live.

My favorite part of Holy Week was the service at the Seminary on Good Friday. The service was boring (as my wife said in our Alabama Adventures blog –, but the chapel itself was amazing. The artwork and d├ęcor gave a sense of the transcendent. Above us was a huge dome that was painted as a balcony. (That's a picture of it at the top of the post...) The figures looking over the edge, watching our worship were believers throughout the history of the church. Above them was a beautifully done picture of Jesus, surrounded by the angelic host. On that day it was more than just art. It was a reminder that when I come to worship, I am not alone. I am joining a community made up of Alabamans. But even more so, a historical community, coming together outside of the restraints of time. We are all joining in worship of the person who unites us and makes this all possible. That is a powerful realization. We never worship alone.

So yes, I’m feeling the shock that comes from being immersed in a different culture. But I’m also being encouraged by remembering that there is a Truth that transcends culture. That no matter where I am, I am truly home when I bow in worship as a part of the eternal community of faith. This community exists to confess that Jesus is Lord of all, Ruler of the Universe, and reconciler of all people and cultures who dare to surrender to His Lordship. That makes this an exciting place to be. And when you think of it that way, it doesn’t seem so far from home.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Reflections on the first official week of the "Sabbatical"

Well, I should write something I suppose. We finally have the internet at our house. That's a good thing. I'm getting settled in at Samford and have wireless access there, but have been spending most of my time looking around, reading, and settling Maddie into her school. All of the kids are transitioning really well. Maddie's anxiety makes it a bit tougher to get her settled, but she's really working at it and doing way better than I thought she would.

What do I do on a sabbatical, you ask? So far I have been reading a lot. I'm prepping for some discussions that I'll have in the next couple of months with some of my "theological" heroes. They've agreed to sit with me and let me pick their brains about this whole pastor thing that I do. I am trying to think out what it is that I want to ask them in order to utilize the time I have with them in the most effective way.

I'm also enjoying my family. It's really weird to not have to wonder if the phone will interrupt our evening. Last Friday morning I realised that I needed to plan our week-end. What would we do for church? How would we spend Saturday? It was really fun to feel free to do whatever. My week-ends usually don't have that much flexibility. Ang and I are havng a blast too. Best decision I ever made to marry her! She makes sabbatical fun!

A big surprise is that I'm feeling some culture shock here. Alabama is a world all to itself. I like it, but it's a bit different. I had thought that growing up in the south would make my transition pretty seamless. The girls might feel a little culture shock, but I was sure that it wouldn't affect me. Not so. I felt a little better when the telephone line installer said that he had the same feelings when he moved here from...Louisiana. It's a different world. But it still belongs to God and He seems to have a lot of fun teaching me about who He is through the things that I am experiencing. Just to let you know that the more things change the more they stay the same, we've had a phone line here for only 4 days and I got two, you count them, two telemarketing calls tonight. But, just like in Canada, they can never pronounce Kuhn right.

We miss our family, friends, and our church family, but I am convinced that this is going to be an experience that all of us will grow through and will treasure throughout our lives. I'll keep you posted as things progress. Until then, keep praying for us. And Jim, if you're reading this (or if Sandy is) then happy retirement. It couldn't happen to a nicer guy. And congrat's Mike and Jan. All the best people have four kids. It's the lazy self-centered ones that stop at two.

Just read through this and I must admit it's pretty boring...I guess you had to be here...but it's working for me so far.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Approaching the last leg,,,

...of our journey south. We have a few more days in Knoxville visiting family and then we'll take the last drive into Birmingham. It's been an incredible trip so far. The kids have traveled well, we've seen huge sections of the United States, and now reconnecting with family (that we don't often see) is really fun. I'm looking forward to getting tucked in at Samford and establishing a bit of a routine. It still feels a bit like vacation. Kinda like we'll pack up and head back to BC next week. We'll see what that feeling turns into when we unpack for three months in Alabama. My goal is to post periodically on this blog. I'll try to let it focus more on what I am learning as I reflect on life, ministry, and following Jesus. If you want to get the family details be sure to check out Alabama Adventures. I think it will be more of an update on our week to week activities.

Monday, March 19, 2007

A New Blog...

...Devoted to the adventures of my family on our three month trip to Birmingham, Alabama. It's called Alabama Adventures and you can follow the fun here. ( It's better than reality TV. A man and five women, traveling 3000 miles in a van named "Gus". They immerse themselves in the deep south and learn that there really isn't anything better than fried chicked or biscuits and sausage gravy...

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Almost headed south...

As I mentioned a while back, our family will be heading to Birmingham, Alabama for the next three months. As a sort of BPSA (Blog Public Service Announcement) I give you the following "Photo Essay"

You may consider yourself a devoted reader of "Jeff's Journey"...

But who knows what's around the corner...

Jeff takes no personal responsibility for anything appearing on this blog during his sabbatical....

Even good blogs go to the dogs.

Photos by Rebecca Kuhn...

Friday, March 16, 2007

Good thing I'm going on Sabbatical soon...

"The members of Lake Vista Baptist Church like punctuality. But recently the church has gone through some tensions with their new pastor. Rev. Charles "Chuck" Waggoner joined the congregation 6 months ago and the people immediately took to him."He was great when he first came." Said Maggie Crimm, the church's pianist. "He visited people, and his sermons were great. But around Christmas time things just started getting out of hand."The trouble began when Waggoner's sermons began getting longer and longer, often going past noon."

Read more about the "Pastor Blaster" here.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Great Story...

Taken from the Prism ePistle.

TREASURE IN HEAVEN: How Would You Invest $100 for Gods Kingdom? What would you do if you were handed $100 and asked to invest it for Gods Kingdom? Denny Bellesi, serving as interim teaching pastor, posed the question at Lake Avenue Church, a large congregation with 4,300 members in Pasadena, California. The question is based on Christs Parable of the Talents (Matt. 25:14-30). A master asked three servants to invest his money while he was away. Two increased their funds and the master praised them. But one so feared the master that he hid his money in a hole. It is a lesson in stewardship and faith. Pastor Bellesi brought the lesson home by then asking church members to take on a real-life Kingdom Assignment. The challenge burned in the heart of Dave Scanlan, 40, a fireman in Pasadena, who is married with two sons. He was one of the more than 100 people who came forward to signal their readiness to accept the challenge. Each received a $100 bill. Scanlan said they were told to take that money and pray about it - however you feel led to invest it, you invest it.

The pastor asked them to report back in 90 days.

Scanlan prayed about it, but says, I couldn't find an assignment. I didn't know what I was supposed to do. Then he went to a concert given by the Christian band Third Day. The band told the crowd about the crisis in Northern Uganda, where children have been abducted and forced to become child soldiers and sex slaves. This was the first time Scanlan heard about it. At the concert he also learned about World Visions work to save the children, and he signed up to sponsor Anthony, a six-year-old in Uganda. Scanlan contacted World Vision to see how else he could help. He used the $100 from his Kingdom Assignment to make more than 100 copies of a World Vision video he distributed to friends and family. He handed out flyers and gave presentations. And people responded.

He says, "The best thing was that I had kids come in and give me their birthday money, saying, [The children in Uganda] need it more than me." When the time came to give the church his 90-day report, his $100 had turned into more than $3,000 in donations to help children in Uganda with aid such as food, water, medicine and counseling. And things kept rolling. "People kept calling me. They wanted me to keep going." So now Scanlan is into Phase Two and is working to reach even more people in his church to help more children in Uganda.

Scanlan says he was truly surprised by all this. This was his first significant involvement at his church, where sometimes he had just felt like a face in the crowd. He describes himself as a behind-the-scenes kind of person, and not a public speaker. "All I did was tell the story," he said, "and do a bit of legwork. And people then wanted to know what they could do to help." Scanlan says that if you follow your faith, doors open. He says he learned that it is all really quite simple.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

We will go with you...or will we?

One of my most favorite poems of all time. It finds its way back into my life every few years and I'm richer for it. Take the time to read it slowly...

"Misgiving" by Robert Frost

All crying, 'We will go with you, O Wind!'
The foliage follow him, leaf and stem;
But a sleep oppresses them as they go,
And they end by bidding them as they go,
And they end by bidding him stay with them.

Since ever they flung abroad in spring
The leaves had promised themselves this flight,
Who now would fain seek sheltering wall,
Or thicket, or hollow place for the night.

And now they answer his summoning blast
With an ever vaguer and vaguer stir,
Or at utmost a little reluctant whirl
That drops them no further than where they were.

I only hope that when I am free
As they are free to go in quest
Of the knowledge beyond the bounds of life
It may not seem better to me to rest"

Here is my prayer for you today...When you are free to go in quest...may it not seem better to you to rest.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

There nothing like...

...the scream of a child! No, it's not what you think. We just spent an awesome day with some friends about 15 minutes (and 2000 feet of elevation) outside of Hope in a place called Sunshine Valley. There was still well over a foot of snow and my children loved it. It was such a good day I wanted to post a few of the pictures here. Enjoy...

Sometimes the only bad thing about a day is that it's over...

Friday, February 09, 2007

Art as food for the heart...

I've been preaching through the book of Jeremiah at the church lately. It's been a very powerful experience for me. I have come to really love and admire Jeremiah and his faithfulness to the difficult call that God gave him as well as his love and compassion for the people who were running away from God. He is a man who weeps for both the honor of God and the depravity of humanity. Judgment and compassion. Passion and humility. There is much for me to learn from this man who lived 2600 years ago.

That's why I took the time to appreciate this picture...

...from Tod Bolsinger's blog, It Takes A Church... Tod writes.

"Michelangelo's "Jeremiah" was the "picture of the day" on my Google home page. Something about the power of his version of the prophet from the Sistine Chapel tugged at my heart."
Sometimes art helps enflesh the text. Just spend some time looking at it. And then read through Jeremiah. You won't come away the same.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Bless my enemies...

You may have noticed that I really appreciate written prayers. (See here and here) I used to think that they were a mindless ritual. Why write out a prayer ahead of time When you could just pray "from the heart"? As I am maturing (and yes, contrary to many opinions, I am maturing) I have come to realize the power of a written prayer to make me pray things that I need to pray. My heart isn't always willing to surrender. It wants to pray about the weather. Not about the things that lie within.

So now I like written prayers. They serve as signposts that help me to follow Jesus. Today I came across a prayer written by Serbian bishop Nikolai Velimirovic, who spoke out against Nazism in the early 1940s. Because of his protests, he was arrested and taken to the Dachau concentration camp. He prays,

"Bless my enemies, O Lord.

Even I bless them and do not curse them.

Enemies have driven me into your embrace more than friends have.

Friends have bound me to Earth; enemies have loosed me from Earth and have demolished all my aspirations in the world.

Just as a hunted animal finds safer shelter than an un-hunted animal does, so have I, persecuted by enemies, found the safest sanctuary, having ensconced myself beneath your tabernacle, where neither friends nor enemies can slay my soul.

Bless my enemies, O Lord.

Even I bless and do not curse them."

That's a prayer that my heart won't come up with on it's own. It's too honest. Too weighty. Too dangerous. So thanks Nikolai. You've helped to reorient me away from myself and back toward Jesus. That's what prayer should be all about.

A whole lot of "one" can really make a difference...

Feel like you could never make an impact in this big old world? You're only one person. We all feel that way sometimes.

Here's some great reminders about the power of one (when it joins with other "ones"). It comes from an old issue of the Atlanta Journal Consititution (8-22-04) and an article named, "A penny saved." The article shows the power of pennies when they join forces:
  • A one cent per case increase of Coca-Cola would bring the company $45 million a year.
  • A one cent-per-gallon increase in the price of jet fuel increases Delta Airline's company costs by $25 million a year.
  • A one cent increase in the hourly wage for all the employees of Home Depot amounts to $6.5 million a year.
  • If Krispy Kreme increased the cost of each donut by one penny, the company would increase profits by $27 million.
Lots of implications here for Christians...if we really began to join together and live as one the impact in the world could be increased exponentially. I think that might have been what Jesus wanted when he prayed,
"I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you." (Jn. 17:20-21)
Sometimes we need to get caught up in what could be instead of what is...

Friday, February 02, 2007

Rethinking the Familiar

You should really read almost everything that Andy Crouch writes. Here's a sample that should get you started.

In Luke 14, Jesus tells the stories of a tower builder and an embattled king. In many English Bibles, these twin parables are labeled “The Cost of Discipleship.” But Jesus’ first hearers would have known that label was exactly backwards. For these stories are not about disciples, but fools...Make no mistake. The tower builder and the king are not models of discipleship. When does Jesus ever speak of discipleship as if it were a construction project, carefully calculated and accounted for, or a war, in which we marshal our own forces and find them adequate for the battle? Biblical faith is the abandonment of our tower building, the surrender of our ambitions to foolishly fight our way to security.

Read the rest here.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Another Windstorm Update...

From my brother-in-law Reid as he reflects on the past 3 weeks...
"Life is funny sometimes, and then you break down and cry."

Read the rest of the update here.

Prayer of St. Anselm

Trying to refocus your relationship with listen to Him as He is and not as you think He is? Knowing God always starts with the humility of admitting that you need help.

Coming to the Quiet shares a great prayer that helps with this from Anselm...

"Lord teach me to seek you and show me yourself when I look for you.
I cannot seek you unless you show me how;
I cannot find you unless you reveal yourself.
So let me look for you in hope and with longing, let me long for you as I seek.
But let me find you in love and love you as I find you."

Friday, January 26, 2007

God is great, and I ain't...

I have a good friend named Matt Auten. Other than my wife and kids, he is probably my most favorite person to eat pizza with. We went to college together, but since 1993 we've lived 3000 miles apart. I've had four daughters in that time frame. He has married and had two sons. (That's Amy and the boys with Matt above...) I'm a pastor. He's a finish carpenter and a great musician. He's been nice enough to fly out and visit a few times, and whenever I'm back down south I make sure to go to My Father's Pizza with him. I keep telling him to move to the Great White North (which is Great and North, but not really very White) but he stubbornly refuses. For such a good friend he can be quiet mule-headed at times. We both hate talking on the phone so the bulk of our conversation is via email.

What amazes me is that even though life and our experiences have us so far removed from one another, our spiritual journeys are at times almost identical. Well..maybe the journeys aren't the same, but we sure end up in some of the same places. Matt has a way with words (you should read some of his lyrics to his songs), so often he puts what I am thinking so clear it's as if I'd said it myself. One example of this came in his last email. I liked the words so much I just had to share them here...

The Incarnation and the Cross are the only parts of Christianity that 'keep' me a Christian (by the Holy Spirit). There is nothing else for me these days. It's just Creator and Createe and the reconciliation between the two in Christ for His glory. That's it. I live on it like it's food. Most everything else in life is some misunderstood shade of grey, and getting greyer. But God is great, and I ain't.

It's really pretty simple. Thanks Matt, for reminding me (once again) of what I already knew...

Blowing in the wind...

More on the windstorm I wrote about here can be found from my sister-in-law Cyndi here and her husband Reid here.

Nice to have Cyndi and Reid back and posting on their blogs...

Nice to have Cyndi around at all. But if you're reading this Cyndi...don't let it go to your head.

Hunger Facts

More than 850 million people in the world go hungry.

In developing countries, 6 million children die each year, mostly from hunger-related causes.

But we can end hunger. We have the means. The financial costs to end hunger are relatively slight. The United Nations Development Program estimates that the basic health and nutrition needs of the world's poorest people could be met for an additional $13 billion a year. Animal lovers in the United States and Europe spend more than that on pet food each year.

What makes the difference between millions of hungry people and a world where all are fed?

Only a change in priorities. Only the will to end hunger.

For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.'

"They also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?'

"He will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.' (Mt. 25:42-45, NIV)

Read more on world hunger here.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Canadians are different than Americans...

In case you didn't know. Here's a clip from the movie Canadian Bacon that gives a little insight...

Just for the record...I love it here. If I could bring all my family from the States up here life would be great...

No Blinding Lights, Just Perseverance....

A great post from a new blog that I am reading - Coming to the Quiet.
"There are things in my life that I desperately want to change, that need to change. Today, tomorrow, the next day, and the day after that, etc. I will get up and go about my day. Some days I will fall, I will sin, I will need repentance, healing, restoration. Some days I will not fall. On all days, falling days or standing days alike, I will get up, stay on the path, pray, study, do works of mercy and justice...I will live my life, my daily, ordinary life, and I will live it in pursuit of the One.... And in so doing, today, tomorrow, next week, next year, a decade down the road...I am changed, I am converted, I become a holy man....

At least that is the way I see it. No blinding lights, just perseverance until the end...."

Read the rest of the post here.

I have seen God's face... the faces of His people. As I pastor I realize that more and more each day. We just had a church "business meeting" last night that was a great encouragement to me. We called Ed Thomas as our Associate Pastor (a unanimous vote), and we heard the stories of 8 people who became members of our church. It was amazing to hear (again) how God works in so many different ways to call people into a relationship with Him. What I realized was that He almost always uses people in this process. While it is true that many (myself included) often distort who God is and what He is like by the way we live, there are those people who live life in a way that allows us to know Him better. In their weakness He is clearly seen for who He is and not for who they are. It is an incredible privilege (as well as a huge responsibility) to reflect the nature and character of God to the world. For those of you who have given me this gift, let me take this opportunity to say thanks...

I would list your names, but I know that I'd leave someone out.

Along this same line, I came across this great quote by Frederick Buechner,
"In his holy flirtation with the world, God occasionally drops a handkerchief. These handkerchiefs are called saints."

Thanks to so many of you for being the "handkerchief" of God in my life...

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

LIVE by Brokeshopaholic

A great quote by Victor Hugo from my friend Randi at LIVE by Brokeshopaholic
"Have courage for the great sorrows of life and patience for the small ones. And when you have finished your daily task, go to sleep in peace. God is awake."

Wow. Thanks Randi for pointing me to that nugget...

Monday, January 22, 2007

Smart or Stoopid

Here's what "they" say...
"The Smart or Stoopid test is purely meant to be a fun quiz to see how your IQ rates alongside the average, based on the scores of other people who have taken the test. Naturally, only stupid people would take it as a true indicator of intelligence, and only intelligent people would take it as a true indicator of stupidity. Or something like that."
Just so you know, I scored 24 which means that I am 26% smarter than average. Aren't you impressed? I thought so...

Take the test here.

Here's another fun thing called Catch 33 to test your hand-eye coordination...