Saturday, February 28, 2009

If I had to choose a church...

...only knowing it from the Web I would like to go here. I am totally in line with what they say church should be. I don't have to choose a church as they currently pay me to go the one I am at now...pretty good gig I think. Not many people get paid to go to church. So I'm sticking around, but I would like to see my own church move in that direction as well. I know there is no perfect church...and I don't expect that Life on the Vine feels as if they've arrived. It's just refreshing to see that people are thinking and talking about what church is supposed to be instead of just being content to leave it as it is.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Setting the table this Sunday...

We do communion at our church the first Sunday of every month. It's coming up this week. That frequency is just enough to be dangerous. Just enough to open the option of treating it as something commonplace, a ritual that we do because us church type people like rituals. And after all, didn't Jesus tell us to do this?

But there's more to it than just ritual. In a Peanuts cartoon Lucy demanded that Linus change TV channels, threatening him with her fist if he didn’t. “What makes you think you can walk right in here and take over?” asks Linus. “These five fingers,” says Lucy. “Individually they’re nothing but when I curl them together like this into a single unit, they form a weapon that is terrible to behold.” “Which channel do you want?” asks Linus. Turning away, he looks at his fingers and says, “Why can’t you guys get organized like that?” Far too often the church is like of Linus’ fingers. We have amazing potential – we are Christ’s body in the world – but we can’t see to “get organized”. Someone once said that the Christian Army is the only one that spends more time polishing their armor and fighting among themselves than they do actually fighting the enemy.

That’s one reason why communion is so important. It affirms the basic things that we can all agree to. It reminds us of what Jesus did. He came to serve us by giving His life. He died so that we might be forgiven. He rose from the dead to prove that He can transform and empower us. In eating the bread and in drinking the juice we say with believers all over the world that we believe these things to be true, and that we accept this as the only true spiritual nourishment for our hungry souls.

But we also say something else. We say that not only what Jesus did is important, but also the way He did it. He restored us by being broken. He gave us life by dying. In the words of Paul in Philippians, Jesus did
“…nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility (He) consider(ed) others better than (Himself). (He) looked not only to (His) own interests, but also to the interests of others…” (Phil. 2:3-4)
In eating the bread and drinking the juice we say together as one people (along with believers all over the world) – “I believe in Jesus. I believe that my only hope is what He did on my behalf, and that my only purpose is to follow His example.”

This is no empty ritual. The question is, "What do you bring to the table?"

Thursday, February 26, 2009

More than we bargained for... of my soapboxes is that technology is changing us more than we can imagine. A key catalyst that started this line of reasoning within me was an amazing essay by Bill Joy, co-founder and chief scientist at Sun Microsystems, called Why The Future Doesn't Need Us. This was compounded by my own observations about how the cell phone and the internet were changing the dynamics of human interaction. My reflections led to a poem about the cell phone. I won't share the whole thing, but the following lines communicate a bit of my thinking...
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
I won't get started because once I start ranting I usually go on to long...but I will tell you that I think I'm right. And along the same lines...this just in - Social websites harm children's brains: Chilling warning to parents from top neuroscientist.

Now stop reading blogs and go out and talk to someone face to face!

Just for fun...

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

More on Lent...

Here you go...some food for thought.

Just in case you were wondering...

As of Wednesday, 2/25/2009, 11:58:39 AM EST
  • I am 41 years old.
  • I am 495 months old.
  • I am 2,155 weeks old.
  • I am 15,083 days old.
  • I am 362,003 hours old.
  • I am 21,720,238 minutes old.
  • I am 1,303,214,319 seconds old.
Curious? See this.

Word Creation Wednesday...

Here's this week's honor of today being Ash Wednesday, a day of repentance and confession leading into Lent.
"dustification" - The process of realizing that we are not the center of the universe - God is. We were created from dust and were it not for His grace we would have no hope of anything more. Yet because of His grace, dust is the stuff of glory.
For those of you not familiar with Lent or Ash Wednesday, you may want to check out this. For some assistance in this process of "dustification" you may find it helpful to take some time today in silence and prayer to refocus. I especially like this prayer from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer...
Almighty God, you have created us out of the dust of the earth: Grant that these ashes may be to us a sign of our mortality and penitence, that we may remember that it is only by your gracious gift that we are given everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.

Church...this wierd thing we do.

As spring approaches my backyard begins developing its "to-do" list for me. When I was on sabbatical a couple of years ago I wrote this poem about two things that may seem different and yet are really have a lot in common - church and my backyard. Sometimes taking your breath away can be fatal...

My church is right behind my house
I call it my back yard
A place where I can just relax
While I’m working hard

Things of beauty call me there
They take my breath away
Yet what delights my eye may be
The death of me someday

For every weed I pull it seems
That two or three take root
At times serenely walking
I’ll smell poop upon my boot

I tell the plants of higher things
Of loving God and neighbor
I sing to them of peace and joy
They call me to hard labor

Oh there’s potential – All can see
What someday it could be
This garden who has crucified
One more divine than me

So why is it I go there?
Why can’t I stay away?
Not really sure, so I blame God
Who wired my DNA

Or maybe there’s a deeper plan
If I have eyes to see
Maybe while I’m tending them
He’s cultivating me.

My church is right behind my house
I call it my back yard
A place where I can just relax…
While I’m working hard.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Not what we know but who we love

I learned a lesson from watching my father over 20 years ago. Like many of his generation, smoking was a rite of passage - something that you just did at a certain age. You learned to drive, you got a job, you lit up a smoke. That decision plagued him for years. As he married and had a family he began to loathe his need for a cigarette. Many times in desperation he threw has pack out the window of the car, only to return to the spot later to, in his own words, "…part the weeds to look for my smokes.” Today he is free from that addiction. He credits it to two things. First, he told God that he wanted to quit but that he couldn’t. He asked for help. Second, what motivated his prayer of desperation was a comment from my older sister who was soon to be married. After my dad had recovered from a coughing spell, my sister simply said, “Dad, I sure want you to be around to see your grandchildren.” That comment moved him to pray. That prayer empowered him to change. And 26 years later, he is still a changed man.

What motivates change? It’s not education. My father knew the dangers of smoking for years before he quit. His motivation came from something deeper than knowledge, it came from relationship. He changed not because of what he knew, but because of who he loved. He saw how lighting a cigarette was going to impact his children, and his coming grandchildren. That drove him to his knees. That was the catalyst for change.

The Bible is full of this idea of the power of relational motivation when it comes to change.
  • We love, because He first loved us.
  • Now that I, Your Lord and Master, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.
  • As the Father has sent me, so send I you.
God’s plan was not just to teach us who He was, but to invite us into a transforming relationship with Him. In that relationship we learn who He is, but not as a laboratory student doing a dissection, we learn as a friend. If our life is to bring about transformation in the lives of others, it has to facilitate relationship. And while that will involve knowledge and education, it has to go deeper than that. It must allow truth to impact emotions.It needs to dig in deep on a relational level. It needs to help us (and those around us) know God, not know about God. It needs to reflect the true image of God to the world around us.

This week's sermon...

The time is ripe...Amos chapters 7 and 8.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Quote of the week...

This week's quote comes from a fictional letter from a senior demon (Screwtape) to his nephew (Wormwood) as found in the C.S. Lewis classic, The Screwtape Letters. He cautions his nephew about the dangers of letting "his human" become surrendered to Jesus instead of being blown back and forth by the winds of circumstance.
"Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy's will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys."

-- Screwtape via C.S. Lewis

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Saturday, February 21, 2009

What the world eats...

From Time Magazine, a photo essay about what families around the world eat in the course of a week. You have to see here.

Anybody else see the problem with this kind of thinking?

Today from CNN...
"U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton broached the issue of human rights with Chinese leaders Saturday, but emphasized that the world economic and other crises are more pressing and immediate priorities." (Read the rest of the article here.)
Clinton's actual quote was...
"Human rights cannot interfere with the global economic crisis, the global climate change crisis and the security crises."
Contrast this with the word of Amos...
"They sell the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals. They trample on the heads of the poor as upon the dust of the ground and deny justice to the oppressed. (Amos 2:6-7)
"Will not the land tremble for this, and all who live in it mourn? (Amos 8:8)
My thoughts are best expressed in the words of Randy Stonehill...
"Stop the world, I want to get off. This is too weird for me.
Stop the world, I want to get off. I get the definite impression that this isn't how it's meant to be.
Stop the world, I want to get off. I've just got to find a planet where they're interested in sanity."

Once Upon A Time...

“Once upon a time there was a great religion that over the centuries had spread all over the world. But in those lands where it had existed for the longest time, its adherents slowly grew complacent, lukewarm, and skeptical. Indeed, many of the leaders of its oldest groups even publicly rejected some of the religion's most basic beliefs.

In response, a renewal movement emerged, passionately championing the historic claims of the old religion and eagerly inviting unbelievers everywhere to embrace the ancient faith. Rejecting the skepticism of leaders who no longer believed in a God who works miracles, members of the renewal movement vigorously argued that their God not only had performed miraculous deeds in the past but still miraculously transforms all who believe. Indeed, a radical, miraculous "new birth" that began a lifetime of sweeping moral renewal and transformation was at the center of their preaching. Over time, the renewal movement flourished to the point of becoming one of the most influential wings of the whole religion.

Not surprisingly, the movement's numbers translated into political influence. And the renewal movement was so confident of its beliefs and claims that it persuaded the nation's top political leader to have the government work more closely with religious social service organizations to solve the nation's horrendous social problems. Members of the renewal movement knew that miraculous moral transformation of character frequently happened when broken persons embraced the great religion. They also lobbied politicians to strengthen the traditional definition of marriage because their ancient texts taught that a lifelong covenant between a man and a woman was at the center of the Creator's design for the family.

Then the pollsters started conducting scientific polls of the general population. In spite of the renewal movement's proud claims to miraculous transformation, the polls showed that members of the movement divorced their spouses just as often as their secular neighbors. They beat their wives as often as their neighbors. They were almost as materialistic and even more racist than their pagan friends. The hard-core skeptics smiled in cynical amusement at this blatant hypocrisy. The general population was puzzled and disgusted. Many of the renewal movement's leaders simply stepped up the tempo of their now enormously successful, highly sophisticated promotional programs. Others wept.”

What you’ve just read are the opening paragraphs of an article by Ron Sider called “The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience”. You can find the rest of the article online here. Why don't you bop on over and let it stretch your thinking a bit...

Friday, February 20, 2009

'Being in Iraq ... you become different'

Found this great story on -
"Matt Robinson returned from infantry duty in Iraq struggling with drugs and alcohol and soon was homeless. He is not alone. One-third of all homeless adults in the U.S. served in the military. Robinson turned his life around with the help of CNN Hero Roy Foster, who founded Stand Down House to support veterans in Florida." Foster's full story is here.
One-third of all homeless adults in the U.S. served in the military. That's an incredible statistic. A statistic this disproportionate calls for some serious reflection. The one question that the article doesn't answer and one that forces us to re-evaluate war in general is this -
"What is it about time spent in combat that damages the hearts and souls of so many people?"
In my mind the answer is obvious:
You can't train people created in the image of God to kill other people who are created in the image of God - no matter how good the cause or how evil the actions of the other - without serious impact to their spirit, mind, and body.
The difficult truth is that this answer carries with it implications that are complicated and costly. Most people prefer to ignore the steps we need to take in order to remedy the situation. May God bless the work of Roy Foster and others as they lay down their lives for the broken...and may God call us to live in such a way that both follows their example and refuses to avoid difficult answers.

You know you want to try this...

...but it might shape your thinking a bit and challenge the way you live your life.

How rich are you? >>

I'm loaded.
It's official.
I'm the 58,262,892 richest person on earth!


As some of you know I am currently in crunch time for a distance ed course for my Masters. I have until Feb. 28th to finish. I'm closing in, but my agenda includes writing three papers between now and then. That has made life extremely focused with little time for more than family, work, and study. But on March 1st it will be over. And then I'm going to read for fun. Here's what I'll be reading in March...

I can hardly wait to get started...but first I need to finish that stuff that I don't really want to do but that I paid someone else to make me do it...go figure.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

This is all we can do...

In Elmer Bendiner's book, "The Fall of Fortresses" he describes one bombing run over the German city of Kassel.
Our B-17 (The Tondelayo) was barraged by flak from Nazi antiaircraft guns. That was not unusual, but on this particular occasion our gas tanks were hit. Later, as I reflected on the miracle of a twenty-millimeter shell piercing the fuel tank without touching of an explosion, our pilot, Bohn Fawkes, told me it was not quite that simple. On the morning following the raid, Bohn had gone down to ask our crew chief for that shell as a souvenir of unbelievable luck.
The crew chief told Bohn that not just one shell but eleven had been found in the gas tanks – eleven unexploded shells where only one was sufficient to blast us out of the sky. It was as if the sea had been parted for us. Even after thirty-five years, so awesome an event leaves me shaken, especially after I heard the rest of the story from Bohn. He was told that the shells had been sent to the armorers to be defused. The armorers told him that intelligence had picked them up. They could not say why at the time, but Bohn eventually sought out the answer. Apparently when the armorers opened each of those shells, they found no explosive charge. They were clean as a whistle and just as harmless. Empty? Not all of them. One contained a carefully rolled piece of paper. On it was a scrawl in Czech. The intelligence people scoured our base for a man who could read Czech. Eventually, they found one to decipher the note. It set us marveling. Translated, the note read: ‘This is all we can do for you now.’”
There is a beauty in this story that points toward our calling to live as Kingdom citizens in a foreign land. When Christ brings His kingdom to complete fulfillment, we will have peace; peace unlike any peace ever known. Until that time, through the power of His Spirit, His people are to bring peace to the world in whatever way they can. We are the ones who must refuse to pack the shells with explosives. We do that by offering forgiveness. Loving the unlovely. Accepting the outcast. Serving the broken and needy. We are the ones who tell the world, “This is all we can do for you now.”

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

"Teaching them to obey..."

I've been wondering about something lately. What if we elevated the importance of a "lifestyle" statement in our churches? What if instead of being focused on what Baptists or Presbyterians or Anglicans "believe" we really tried to grasp (and apply) how Christians "live"? Please do not jump to conclusions and think that I am trying to ignore biblical doctrine. I know we have to have doctrine, it is VERY important. But maybe in our rush to quantify every single aspect of our doctrine we have neglected some very basic things about our practice. Maybe we have been so concerned about what we believe that we have forgotten to be concerned about how we live.

I was reminded of these ideas by a quote from an Associated Baptist Press article about Rick Warren at the Baptist World Alliance congress. Warren says that what we need now is a transformation. Warning that Baptists often are
"...known for what we're against rather than what we're for..."
Warren continues,
"I am praying for a second reformation of the church" that will focus more on deeds than words. The first Reformation was about beliefs. This one needs to be about behavior. ... We've had a Reformation; what we need now is a transformation."
How would this look? I'm not really sure. Maybe we could start by coming up with a "Statement of Essential Beliefs" that would probably be much like some of the creeds of the ancient church. This would list the biblical doctrines that we could never compromise. Our foundation. From there we could develop a list of values or behaviors that reflect specifically the teachings of Jesus. After all, He said,
"All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you." (Matthew 28:18-20)
He didn’t tell us to "teach them to believe all the right things." He called us to obey.

I know, I know, the danger of legalism creeps in. Obviously this list of behaviors would have to be descriptive instead of merely a list of do's and don'ts. And what will drive our actions if we aren't careful about what we "believe"? Those would be problems we would encounter along the way. But I guess that at present I'm more afraid of ignoring the call to obedience and think that maybe the pendulum needs to swing the other way for a bit. It's food for thought. What do you think?

Word Creation Wednesday...

Here's the new word for this week.

"e-lunatic" - The person who actually believes that if they can just send this email to enough people they will get everything they have ever wanted, uncover the conspiracy that is hiding the cure to cancer, bring peace to the world, and maybe even get $1,000,000 from Bill Gates...and you can have it all too. Just send this blog back to me and 20 other friends and then watch what happens.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

This week's Sermon...

Amos 6. Hard hitting words from the farmer prophet that expose how insecure our security is apart from Jesus. For a Word file of the outline/discussion questions go here.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Quote of the week...

"Do not think me gentle because I speak in praise of gentleness, or elegant because I honor the grace that keeps this world. I am a man crude as any, gross of speech, intolerant, stubborn, angry, full of fits and furies. That I may have spoken well at times, is not natural. A wonder is what it is."
-- Wendell Berry in "A Warning to My Readers"

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Slow learner or learning slowly?

When I complete my M. Div next spring it will be the end of a 17 year process.  I must admit that I am a bit jealous of those who take the three years off and go straight through.  But I think that I got (and am getting) more for my money.  The slow pace, even though it has nearly driven me crazy, helped me to process things...apply them, question them.  Sometimes it takes time to see things. We learn as we go.    

Someday, somewhere, somebody has to acknowledge that the idea of cramming a human being full of information over a short span of time in incredibly misguided. Education, much like relationships, can not be done well if "efficiency" is the number one priority. You may learn facts or trivia in an all night study session, but wisdom comes from study paired with experience.  There are some things that you will never know until you are 60, simply because they are not grasped in a classroom.  They take time to permeate our thick skulls.  

I also find it fascinating that the window of time that we seek to educate with the most focus and intensity is also the time when we are most likely to be more concerned about peer perceptions than actual growth and learning.  In my work with teen-agers I have often found them too distracted by peer expectations and relationships to actually wrestle with what it means to think and learn.  They are afraid to question as it may ostracize them from their "group".  And for the most part, society stresses that by 25 your education should be done and you should be getting on with your life.  I disagree, and not just because it makes me feel better about my snail's pace master's degree.    

I recently wrote in a paper that far too often we see truth as a mountain to be climbed rather than a person with whom we are in relationship.  You never finish a relationship, no matter how many degrees you hang on your wall.  So maybe it's just rationalizing that makes me feel better about my eternal education.  But I am thankful to learn slowly.  I see things much more clearly today than I did 15 years ago.  A friend shared with me a great poem in light of his 59th birthday that stresses the same idea.
Age is opportunity no less
Than youth itself, though in
another dress.

And as the evening twilight fades away
The sky is filled with stars,
invisible by day."
-- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
So keep learning, keep thinking, and be happy to do it slowly.  There are many more stars to see.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

The Medium is the Message...

Not sure if you are familiar with Penn and Teller. Here's something worth watching. Thanks to my good friend Dave Cameron for sharing this with me...

Friday, February 13, 2009

Lessons learned...

Many of you know that over the new year I spent 10 days in Guatemala with my good friend Wes Bergmann. I wrote about the details of our trip here. (The local paper wrote about it as well.) Our purpose was combining a bit of vacation with some research into the idea of "Fair Trade Coffee". Wes, like me, is skeptical of these great ideas that are going to make a huge difference in the world (as well as make a lot of money for those who market them). I have seen the evil in the human heart all too clearly (I have a close up view of the one I have) to have much idealism left. So we wanted to check out the system, talk to the farmers, turn over the fair trade rocks and see what creatures live underneath. And we did. We talked with ...
  • Employees of Finca Filadelfia, a large coffee farm that sells almost exclusively to Starbucks.
  • Coffee roasters and coffee shop owners, (Fernando of Fernando's Kaffee made us think about what he called Smart Trade Coffee. Mike, from Crossroads Cafe (see here as well) in Panajachel stressed the benefits of direct buying. On a related note, both of these guys make a great cup of coffee. If you're ever in Guatemala you should stop in. And then there was Tony in'll just have to ask for the story about that one.)
  • And even smaller farmers affiliated with the Co-op Maya Ixil in Santa Avelina, Quiche, Guatemala. (For a neat article about Santa Avelina check out this.) We visited one of the farms of a small producer (@ 1200 lbs of coffee a year) as well. That's where the picture was taken.
As I reflect on this trip there are several things that I have come to believe.

First, "Fair Trade", like most movements or systems, isn't perfect. In fact, there is corruption happening at many levels. Surprise, surprise. It, like most systems, is made up of fallible human beings. Funny how that happens.

Second, the imperfect system doesn't absolve me of a responsibility to purchase wisely. Miguel, the farmer we visited doesn't make much money off the coffee he grows (just over $1200 USD/year), but if he didn't sell via Fair Trade he would probably only make half as much. When your income is that low...every bit counts. Fair Trade may have it's problems, but it makes a huge difference in Miguel's life.

Finally, if you want to follow Jesus then you have to at least be aware of some basic economic issues. Jesus said that where our treasure is, there our heart will be also (Mt. 6:21) and while that may not mean exactly what we think it to mean it does remind us that what we do with our stuff reflects the concerns of our heart. We have to begin to educate ourselves in regards to the ramifications of our purchases. Just read Amos 6:4-7 if you have any doubts that we need to think about how our lifestyle influences the poor and needy -
"You lie on beds inlaid with ivory and lounge on your couches. You dine on choice lambs and fattened calves. 5 You strum away on your harps like David and improvise on musical instruments. 6 You drink wine by the bowlful and use the finest lotions, but you do not grieve over the ruin of Joseph."
And that's why I'm writing this. I've been challenged to begin to think on a more global scale when it comes to what I buy and what I own. It's pretty complicated to figure it all out and I have no answers yet, but I think that wrestling with the issues and not ignoring them is helping to change me into a better follower of Jesus. So think it over...are you willing to look past your purchases to the world that they are creating? When it comes to coffee I am learning that "You are what you...drink."

If you want more about our trip you can bop on over to Wes' blog here.

A lesson in writing poetry...and following Jesus.

Sometimes our desire for perfection paralyzes us.
If you want to write a good poem (June 13, 2007)

If you want to write a good poem
Then you’ll have to write the bad
For every group of ten bad poems
One good one will be had
So settle down and do it
Grab your pencil and your pad
If you want to write a good poem
Then you’ll have to write the bad

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The loss of the freedom to fail...

Something has been stirring in my mind lately. Like most of the things I am learning, this flows out of the collision between my own life experience and my study of the Scriptures; more specifically, coaching basketball and the book of Amos. The lesson? I think we’ve forgotten the good side of failure.

Coaching involves two very important tasks – teaching skills, and correcting poorly executed skills. The teaching comes pretty easy. The correcting not so much. 99% of the time I offer some sort of correction to a girl on our team they begin to explain to me why they did not do the skill incorrectly. "The other girl pushed me, the ball is poorly inflated, the referee was wrong.” It’s as if they can not acknowledge that they made a mistake.

I shouldn’t be surprised, I guess. Our culture has poured immense effort into making sure that no one feels bad about their abilities (or lack of abilities). The goal was noble, helping children not link their inherent value with their performance. While I can appreciate that, I think our methods have achieved just the opposite. Instead of being honest with them about their weaknesses and stressing that worth isn’t tied to success in a given area, we have just reframed weaknesses as strengths, developing an unhealthy over-assessment of our own abilities. Now we are afraid to say that we blew it because in our society nobody blows it. In trying to help people feel good about who they are, we’ve actually linked who they are with their ability to perform.

So what does this have to do with Amos? In Amos chapter 6 God reveals what is underneath all of Israel’s problems. They have placed their security in their own strength (6:1-3) which isn’t really that strong, or in their stuff (v.4-7) which will all be taken away, or in themselves (v.7-8). It all comes back to pride - thinking they are more than they are. They can’t admit their need of help. They can’t acknowledge that even through they look good on the outside that deep inside they are weak and powerless. It’s okay to fail. Failure doesn’t devalue us. It reminds us that we need more than we have. And that realization pushes us back to God. That's why Paul could say
But he (God) said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (II Cor. 12:9-10)
So let’s all be thankful for failure. We need an honest assessment of our abilities. Only then can we see our need. Only then will our value come out of God’s love for us and not our ability to make it through life without Him.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Word Creation Wednesday...

Each Wednesday I try to create a new word based on my own life experiences from the previous week. Here's this week's submission -
"Selfobliviosis" - The ability to see our own faults in the lives of others while not being able to see them in ourselves. This usually comes hand in hand with extreme anger or irritability with the other person and it would be fair to say that the amount of anger/ irritability is directly proportional to the presence of the fault in our own life. This is a difficult malady to treat, but it can be greatly reduced by large doses of humility if taken with friends that love you enough to be honest.

Every job has one of those days...

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Mocha Club Invitation

My good friend Karyn just sent me this...
Hey Everyone,

Darrin & I found this website and thought it was a great cause. We decided to start a team for the Child Mothers. Think about joining our team!!

Thanks Karyn

For more info go here.

This week's Sermon...

Here's the message that I preached last Sunday...Amos chapter 5. Nothing like a warm fuzzy to start off the week.

My 25 things...

You may have seen it...the Facebook "25 things about me" meme. Well, I did it. It was fun to put it together so I decided to post it here as well...

1. My wife is my most favorite person in the world and if I could hang out with anyone, anywhere, it would be her. I tell her that she is my island of calm in my ocean of chaos...and I mean it.
2. I came within a few seconds of drowning when I was 19 years old.
3. I never wanted to be a pastor...and at times I still question the wisdom of that decision.
4. I have four amazing daughters (15, 12, 10, and 8) that are each unique. I am proud to see who they are becoming and hope that I can be a father that God uses in their lives.
5 I am currently setting some sort of record for the longest Masters Degree (M.Div) in history. I am 16 years into it and am planning to complete it in the spring of 2010.
6. I play guitar and piano...but not as well or as much as I wish.
7. If my wife and I could work as travel writers - you know, visiting places all around the world and writing them up in travel books - we would start tomorrow.
8. In college I once filled up a friends entire shower with snow...all the way to the ceiling.
9. I have always liked basketball better than football, but I got cut from my high school basketball team when I was in Grade 10. I continued to play football due to the fact that it doesn't take as much skill to run into people.
10. I have a NAFTA marriage. I am American, my wife is Canadian, and we met in Mexico.
11. At times I dream of moving into an Amish Community...seriously.
12. I once climbed a 300 foot, 3 pitch rock climb when I was in college. There is a reason I only did it once.
13. I like to blog ( and would love to write a book one day but at this point consider myself too lazy to write that much and too young to have anything to say that hasn't already been said.
14. As a pastor, I generally like doing funerals more than doing weddings...
15. I think technology is changing us and is far more dangerous than we realize. Yet here I am on Facebook...go figure.
16. My favorite songwriter - bar none - is Matt Auten.
17. I sometimes write poetry. And sometimes I don't.
18. Some of my best memories are from long road trips (BC to Mexico, BC to Alabama) in a 1987 Chevrolet Van with my family. I would love to drive with them from Alaska/Yukon to the tip of South America in a 6-12 month period.
19. I think everyone should probably read everything that Eugene Peterson and Parker Palmer ever wrote.
20. I have a sneaking suspicion that my house owns me instead of me owning it.
21. I do not have the gift of working with children other than my own, unless it's to box them up in crates and send them back somewhere.
22. I am captivated by Jesus and excited about what He is doing in the world...even though much of the time I do not understand it.
23. I often contemplate selling everything and moving to Mexico or Guatemala and just doing whatever needs to be done.
24. I think church is really weird, and dysfunctional, and hurts people, and usually misses what's most important, and yet in some strange way is still vital in teaching us what it means to be a follower of Jesus.
25. I need a certain amount of silence in my life or I get really grumpy.

And a good time was had by all...

So we lost last night in the first round of the play-offs by 9 points, ending our season. And even though I am sad that we lost I am very proud of our girls. In two seasons they have come a long way and are turning into pretty decent basketball players. The team we lost to was second in our league. Last year they decimated us each time we played, usually by around 30 points. This year they beat us by 10 the first time, and only 1 the second. Yesterday they were running scared. In fact, for the first 3 periods we had them. But seasons end - and as someone once said, life is about bigger things than the score. So here's to the 2008-2009 Grade 9 Mustangs. Ladies it has been a pleasure being a part of your lives.

Monday, February 09, 2009

All I want for Christmas...

Big screen TV's or new cars don't tempt me toward a materialistic lifestyle...but this does.

Quote of the week...

Thanks to Scot McKnight of Jesus Creed who pointed me to this quote from Seth Godin's new book, Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us:
"People don't believe what you tell them.
They rarely believe what you show them.
They often believe what their friends tell them.
They always believe what they tell themselves.
What leaders do: they give people stories they can tell themselves. Stories about the future and about change."
-- Seth Godin
That's a good enough quote to put this book on my reading list.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

The Truth about Short Term Mission Trips...

I don't know much about Mocha Club, but their video sums up the value that I see in churches doing short-term mission trips and partnering with leadership from the third world. We can help and we should help, but we usually get the greatest benefit. Mocha Club seems to be a way to harness social networking and the internet to partner with Africa. That's a good idea.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

We abuse what we overuse...

I came across something I wrote a couple of years ago while on sabbatical and I thought I'd republish it here on the blog just for some food for thought. I'd apologize for republishing it, but I'm not so gullible as to think that people remember what they read here. So here it is...

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 often 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. That 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.

Friday, February 06, 2009

A "Trillion Dollar Stimulus"...

From the Family Research Council Blog -

If you stack up $1,000 bills, $1 trillion would need a pile that is 80 miles high.

$ 1 trillion is more than the combined gross revenues of Wal Mart, Exxon, General Motors and Ford Motors.

Assuming the United States consumes about 17 billion barrels of oil a year and assuming the cost of a barrel of oil is about $65, a trillion dollars will buy an entire year's worth of oil for the USA.

You could buy a thousand Queen Mary 2 with accommodations for 2,620 passengers

With a population of approximately 300 million people, you could give away $1 trillion by giving every man, woman and child in the U.S. $ 3,400 each.

We could buy everyone on Earth an iPod.

We could pave the entire U.S. interstate highway system with 23.5-karat gold leaf.

We could buy 16.6 million Habitat for Humanity houses

We could hire 1.9 million additional teachers

So here's your chance, how would you spend a trillion dollars? Go shopping!

Upset about atheists advertising on buses in the UK and Canada?

Then make your own here...I did. (HT: Tim Challies)

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Don't miss the point I'm making here...

This morning President Obama spoke at the National Prayer Breakfast. He spoke of his own faith and his conversion to Christianity. He said,
"I didn't become a Christian until many years later, when I moved to the South Side of Chicago after college. It happened not because of indoctrination or a sudden revelation, but because I spent month after month working with church folks who simply wanted to help neighbors who were down on their luck - no matter what they looked like, or where they came from, or who they prayed to. It was on those streets, in those neighborhoods, that I first heard God's spirit beckon me. It was there that I felt called to a higher purpose - His purpose." (Full text of comments here.)
I share this quote not to convince you that his conversion is real and that he is a bonafide follower of Jesus Christ. If anything, I found his comments generic and tragically missing the idea of surrender to the leadership of Jesus and the acceptance of His forgiveness. My point in sharing this is to emphasize the factor that led to what he calls his conversion. It was the action demonstrated by those who were followers of Jesus. We have to realize that conversion is not a mental process that takes place within the four walls of the church. It is a change of heart that comes from seeing the reality of believers who live lives of surrender to Jesus. Far too often we tend to major on arguments and minor on basic obedience and love for people,
"... no matter what they looked like, or where they came from, or who they prayed to..."
Can we please, instead of arguing about whether Obama is a "true believer" or not, just begin to live as true believers ourselves? We might be surprised what happens when our lives speak the truth to all around us. After all, didn't Jesus say,
"By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." (Jn. 13:35)?
Is President Obama a Christian? I have no clue. Only God knows the state of his heart. But that doesn't change God's call to me - I need to love the world...just as He does, even when it hurts, even when it costs. Jesus wants me to surrender to Him and follow His example. That's the point.

Finally, a good reason to live in California...

Available soon in California.

Check this out...

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Word Creation Wednesday...

Here's a new idea that I hope to commit to on a weekly basis. Every Wednesday I will seek to create a new word that reflects something that I am observing or experiencing in my own life. There are no guarantees that they will be profound, funny, or even worth the 15 seconds it will take to read the post, but as they say, "Nothing ventured nothing gained." Here's the first installment...
"Fortyresponsiblitis" - The condition that affects those entering their fifth decade of life causing them to secretly wish for a Utopian getaway from all responsibility outside of their immediate family. Often characterized by day-dreaming about winning the lottery and purchasing a small Caribbean island on which to spend the rest of one's days.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

As if by loving pieces...

Often in my job I interact with people who, from the viewpoint of society, are hopeless cases. Due to actions over which they had little control or sometimes even due to their own mistakes, they wander through life "broken". They can't cope with life and so have developed ways of escaping the reality that most of us navigate on a day to day basis. The challenge for us who are "normal" - and I use that term very loosely - is that we tend to mentally elevate ourselves above them. We see ourselves as better because we are not "broken", at least not in as visible a way as they are. Or we try to "fix" them, and get frustrated when they can't seem to get it together no matter what we try. I am learning that the goal is not so much to fix as it is to love. The way we treat what is broken shows the way we love the one who gave it to us. I wrote a poem about this not to long ago - God spoke to me through the combination of my klutziness and a family heirloom.
As if by loving pieces…

Once, in my carelessness,
I broke a tea cup.
An heirloom,
All we have left of my wife’s grandmother.

I break a lot of things.
We just sweep the shards into a pile
And toss them in the garbage.

Not this time.
We carefully picked up each piece;
Saved it,
As if it were an act of love for grandma,
As if by loving pieces we could restore the whole.

Once, in our carelessness,
We broke the world.

Monday, February 02, 2009

My Favorite Super Bowl Commercial...

Quote of the week...

Out of Ur has a great quote from a man who has profoundly impacted my direction in following Jesus...
"As a pastor, I'm not a theology policeman...But if we are part of a community where the Scriptures are honored, I don't think we have to worry too much. The Spirit works through community. Somebody will have a stupid, screwy idea. That's okay. The point of having creeds and confessions and traditions is to keep us in touch with the obvious errors." (Eugene Peterson - From "Having Ears, Do You Not Hear?" in the current issue of Leadership.)

Sunday, February 01, 2009

I am so proud...

Here's a video done by Becca and three friends for the GBC Youth "Golden Bulb Awards".  It took first place.  They did the filming and the editing and seemed to have a pretty good time doing it.  Enjoy.