Thursday, February 25, 2010

church and business.

Ever wish there were limits on humility? Already think there are? This may not even be an issue of humility. Let me know what you think.

Maybe this is why churches became communities of needs being met, because a church doing business with an actual profit-margin-inspired company outside of the congregation doesn't lead to much good.

I'll give you some background.

I'm a pretty laid back person, by nature. Not sure why, always, but I'd give God credit for a large part of it. So when I placed an order for new chairs for our youth room, they asked me if this was "urgent", if I had a date I needed the chairs by. I figured they were pretty busy, and honestly didn't want to come across as I told them at least before 2010. It was early September. We both laughed. Of course, we'd get them before 2010.

So here we are, about to enter March, 2010. I've called several times. Several times, I've been told they're not sure why it's taken so long, and there could be a few different reasons. Holiday break, fabric not being in, etc. etc. "But you'll definitely get a call by _____ (fill in the date)"

Many of those dates have come and gone, and chairs. My teens are even beginning to laugh at the joke of these mythical chairs that I somehow believe are going to arrive someday.

My natural reaction? Frustration. Usually felt toward Alisha, the "innocent" gatekeeper on the phone somewhere in Georgia, who always has to apologize for whoever actually owes me an explanation.

Am I to take the road of humility that swallows the "I deserve _____" mentality, and simply say, "Okay, I'll call back next time you don't meet the deadline so we can repeat this conversation."? (or something with less sarcasm and more love.)

Or is that silly?

Should I focus on the "Justice", and "right business practice", and the people who actually donated the money toward new chairs...and stand up for them?

Tempting even, to put their name on this post, as a warning to anyone searching for reviews on their business. But perhaps my case is just a fluke. Maybe they give great customer service, and speedy deliveries to everyone else.

For now, I suppose it was a great illustration for Advent.

One that might still be useful for this next Advent as well.

Meanwhile, our teens will sit on broken wooden chairs. :) Good Lent practice, probably.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

an opportune time...

The message this past Sunday was on Luke 4:1-13, the "Temptations of Jesus". A few things about this passage jumped out at me in new ways. Most of us have heard the temptation story before. Jesus is tempted to make bread from stones, worship "the devil" to inherit the world's Kingdoms, and jump off a wall to test if God will protect him.

Be offended by how fast I've just summarized it all, and let your offense make you want to read through them slower.

But two places I'd not spent much time noticing before:

1. Verse 2 says, "where for 40 days he was tempted by the devil." Then it goes on to say, at the end of the 40 days he was "famished", and that's when these famous temptations begin. So for 40 days, Jesus was tempted by the devil in ways we have no record of. Mark 1:13 says the same, "He was in the wilderness forty days tempted by Satan...." Matthew 4:1-2 is less clear about these 40 days, "into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted 40 days...." making it sound like perhaps those days were simply a time of fasting. Whatever happened, it's clear the part of what happened that God wants us to be aware of is what we have written. Jesus was tempted. These are some pretty big areas, and the devil continues to tempt us in the same manner. We can stand firm against such temptations by the Word of God in our lives.

2. Verse 13 says, "When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time." What is "an opportune time"? Looking into the Greek yields no magic or cryptic answer. It means what it says...not 4pm, not 2am...just simply, "an opportune time". Thus, we see throughout the ministry of Jesus, things happening that attempt to thwart the mission Jesus is there to live and die for. What does this mean for us? I think it's an important reminder that our tempter will not leave us alone. Here we have Jesus himself overcoming temptation, and instead of saying "aw man, I've been defeated", we have the devil himself not giving up, but merely waiting to approach it again from a different angle.

We stand in the midst of a season of Repentance. We are turning from other things, turning away from the world, turning away from even our selves. We turn toward God. We spend time re-orienting our lives in the context of His Kingdom, New Jerusalem living. But even as we do this, we have not finished, or completely grown out of our need for the Spirit's help in keeping our gaze fixed steadily on Him.

But there's a positive side to it. For the word "kairos" found here, is used much more throughout scripture to describe what time it IS. It is Gods' time. The time of the Kingdom coming. The devil may have to lurk and plan and scheme for an "opportune" moment in time....but the time itself belongs to God. Every moment of every day is "opportune" for the Spirit of God to move. May we live in those moments as often as we breathe...

Monday, February 22, 2010

beautiful &limited

Addie drew this picture of her dad and mom a few days ago. Notice how we both have "Elmo" noses. If you didn't know me or my wife, and someone showed you this picture - telling you a 3 year old had drawn it - you probably wouldn't actually imagine we looked like this. Is it because my daughter is a horrible artist? Nope.

But my daughters ability to create with 2 simple crayons, doesn't match up to the reality seen with human eyes. Heck, even a 2 dimensional product of Kodak couldn't capture all that meeting my wife in person contains. But Addie was simply trying to capture as much as she was she sees mommy and daddy.

We are proud of her. We accept her token of love with a genuine and large smile. We hug her, and we find a magnet to display her artwork on the fridge.

But we do not look like this. :)

During the Lent season, we find ourselves contemplating, praying, and discussing our limits as humans. The fact that our bodies are weak, frail, fragile, and prone to sicknesses and ultimately death. But there are far more limitations than we are able to list in 40 days (itself a limitation...get it? :) ).

Included in these, is the limitation of containing God or even things of God fully in words or descriptions. Listening to Professor Mulholland, of Asbury Seminary on his lectures on the book of Revelation specifically.

In the book of Revelation especially, and several other places in scriptures where we find someone experiencing something of God, or a vision from God...and then trying to describe it to us. We're given pictures, word images, descriptive scenery that inspires either things like hope and beauty, or ugliness and destruction. These scenes can be compared to the artwork posted above. Like children attempting to capture the image of their parents with a single crayon - so too we attempt to describe a glimpse of God using our limited human resources.

But does it discourage my daughter to know that her picture and daddy don't exactly look very much the same? Not at all. She'd do it all over again, and will most likely over and over again throughout her childhood.

May our enthusiasm and desire to describe, worship, and illustrate our love for God in new ways, even conscious as we may be in our of the same stream.

Friday, February 19, 2010

populated prayer...

Starting this past November, we've been encouraged to choose at least one day each month where we spend the entire "work day" in prayer of some sort. In December, I spent my day at Allerton Park in Monticello. In January, I spent my day walking around Durley Campground in Greenville, IL...praying for the teens of our conference, and for the event FROSTBITE 2010, taking place there that weekend.

So here we are in February, and I've chosen to spend my prayer day surrounded by people. I couldn't do this in Decatur, as there'd be too many people I might accidentally know and be tempted to spend large amounts of time in conversation. Not that I'm against conversing with someone near me if they begin one.

Like the conversation I've just had with the older couple next to me. Jim and his wife are visiting from Peoria, for an auction nearby on President Lincoln memorabilia. We talked briefly about Lent, and they were surprised to hear I'd celebrated Ash Wednesday with our youth. Jim told the following story about temptation:

"There once was a man who'd given up coffee cake for Lent. He loooooved his coffee cake. So much so, he prayed one morning, "God, I know I've given up coffee cake, but if the bakery I pass on the way to work has an empty parking spot, I'll know it's you giving me permission to eat it today." So he got into his car, and headed to work. It took about 9 times around the block, but he eventually found an open spot." :)

Jim's wife talked a bit about a program they're helping sponsor to encourage young people in Peoria to become active citizens. Jim talked about reading the obituary page every day, noticing how many people claim a church where they worship; then rambled a bit about this "Lunatic Obama" who claims we're a secular culture. :)

I love people. I will pray among them today, and hopefully talk with a few more. :)

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Monday, February 15, 2010

game on, USA

Just in case you missed the original post, here is the schedule for TEAM USA ICE HOCKEY. Also, mad props to TEAM USA's WOMEN'S HOCKEY for the crazy good game on Sunday against China. 12-1, and we all know it could have been higher, but they decided to use the game to work on some of their passing, etc. Credit to Angela Ruggiero for notching USA's goal number ONE in the 2010 Winter Olympics!!!!

Okay everyone, the TV Schedules are out for some of the games. Here are the games to pay attention to for us in the USA:

Feb. 14th -
USA vs. China - Womens - USA WON - 12-1...WOOT.

Feb. 16th -
USA vs. Switzerland - Mens - 2pm-5pm CST - on USA Network
USA vs. Russia - Womens - 4:30pm CST - on MSNBC

Feb. 18th -
USA vs. Norway - Mens - 2pm-5pm CST - on USA Network
USA vs. Finland - Womens - 4:30-7pm CST - on MSNBC

Feb. 21st -
USA vs. Canada - Mens - 6:00pm-9pm CST - on MSNBC

But no matter who you are, or what country you cheer NEED to be watching NBC, Sunday, Feb. 28th, from 2-5pm as the puck drops on the GOLD MEDAL GAME. See you there. Game On.

a dangerous yearning.

I've begun reading Francis Chan's book "Forgotten God" recently. After spending a weekend with other pastors, talking about the need for God's Church to be experiencing the Holy Spirit....I ended up at Barnes and Noble with some friends. The subtitle is "Reversing Our Tragic Neglect of the Holy Spirit". It seemed a perfect fit for these days.

I've not read far, but the first couple chapters have been great. Really just "setting the stage" for spending time in the Scriptures that discuss the Holy Spirit, approaching them without specific expectations informed by whatever influences we bring to the table....or whatever limitations we've put on our experience of God's Spirit so far.

The traditional/obvious illustration is to look at 3rd world countries, where the Spirit of God is moving in some pretty incredible ways. Where the Church observes and experiences growth and happenings in ways like we in the States hunger for. Our ability/desire to provide for ourselves both today and tomorrow, and almost worshiping that as an Idol in some cases.....has led us to an experience of God that really depends little on what the Spirit is able to provide.

Like many these days, we have been praying for and keeping posted on the efforts in Haiti. We hear stories of the broken-ness. The lack of structure. The suffering. The confusion. The need for so much. My sentiment to hearing so much of this used to be, "Wow. Glad I'm not there. Thanks God for all that I have here."

But, and not being able to explain of justify this, other than thinking it's probably a good response as been, "I want to be there." Selfishly. Not as a desire to bring healing, or Love, or comfort, or food, or money, etc. But because the conditions there sound like a place the Spirit of God would be welcome and depended on in a way that allows/brings about/encourages something BIG and FROM GOD to occur.

Which led me to another thought - I want to desire being present in the "Haiti's" of the lives around me. Thinking about it, I've heard the same thing said by several authors in several other books. But as it struck me this past week, I realized that's a large part of ministry (and love in general). The calling to be present in the broken and messy moments of others. But it's usually seen as an "I'm bringing something to them...the presence of God...comfort...relationship....etc." But to actually realize that they offer something to me, by allowing me to be present in space where the Spirit is being depended on to DO SOMETHING....

May life offer us each more moments like that....and when we find ourselves broken, empty, experiencing loss and suffering, where we feel like we have nothing left....may we invite/welcome others to join us in those moments...moments where God MUST MOVE. :)

Sunday, February 14, 2010


"Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love."
1 John 4:7-9

Happy St.Valentines Day, from a Godly* family...

(*"Godly" being a cute expression of illustrating that there's a lot of love in our home, not a self-promoting-Holiness-kinda-statement)

(just in case that wasn't clear)

Thursday, February 11, 2010


My first experience making ashes for Ash Wednesday....enjoyed this.

Thanks Jesus.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

spoken word.

In planning for a "youth run" worship service Feb. 21st, I've encouraged the teens to think outside the box. Perhaps to even try an avenue of worship they've heard of, but not actually tried themselves. In order to genuinely be able to ask that of them...I figured I should try it myself.

Years back, many of us discovered Amena Brown. Then came The Listener. Somewhere in there, a few of us came into contact with The Breax.

Many others out there I'm sure. But I wanted to give a shot at some Spoken Word.

Not quite poetry. But not quiet rap.

Here we go...


Tuesday, February 09, 2010

you got me.

Immature at best, with music so loud
Obnoxious enough to focus the crowd
To tell me one day, I'd be father of three
You'd get little more than some laughter from me.....

If you knew me back then, you knew even this guy
Would someday convince a woman to marry
With a little smooth talkin, and a "pity me" stare
All I needed was the ring and the query.

But even my mate, whom I share this life with
Showed concern at my history of pets
Could this man with no sympathy for hungry felines
Change diapers and play with tea sets?

Thankfully, she saw more than most
More than any, except maybe God.
We ventured into the hood of parenting
And it's proving far more than facade.

Now my heart is tugged. Wrangled. Grabbed and subdued.
There's no way to explain without being.
The patter of feet, when I wake, arrive, or just quiet
Their heart in their smile I keep seeing.

Their very existence, surprisingly ME
Becoming the father I now know I was created to be
There are moments I don't know what else to do
But respond with the same...

Sunday, February 07, 2010

drops like stars

Yesterday I read an entire 160 page book in under 20 minutes.

Don't be too impressed. Although admittedly, I think the newest book by Rob Bell should be read within a much longer, slower, God-filled span of time. I was at Barnes and Noble, and didn't want to submit to the $35 price tag. So I sat down and read it.

It's a great book, and I understand the merits of "artistic endeavors" that are a part of it, but I certainly hope a much cheaper edition comes out at some point. That last sentence can also be read, "If you want to buy it for me, go ahead." One word of caution/opinion - there is a word or two within the book that I think he could have done without. It reduces the potential audience and usage of the book's powerful message. But that was his choice.

The book is a reminder that God has transformed how we relate to suffering, and the human condition. Not advice on how to "get over it", or how to "receive God's gift of removing us from harmful things", etc. But an actual reminder that within the context of the human lives we find ourselves in...God brings new life.

He uses an illustration of a large crowd. If someone said "everyone here who has endured/experienced cancer, stand up"....many would stand, and an instant bond of community would be felt as they looked around the room. If someone said, "everyone here who has been to Disney World, stand up"...many would stand, but the bond of community would not quite be the same.

Suffering draws us together. Gives us opportunity for response. Opportunity for community.

The early church lost a great leader. Someone who loved them dearly, and whom they loved. Someone they had given up much to follow. He suffered greatly, many of them forced to watch and hear about it. When they saw the symbol of the cross, it was a symbol of a community that had experienced suffering.

It continues to be, for us. God continues to offer us His way of relating to suffering, and the brokenness of creation. May we be a people who do not neglect, nor unhealthily focus on our suffering. May we receive from God new ways to relate to our suffering, and offer that same life and freedom to suffer to those around us. May that lead us to be a people who Love well...

Saturday, February 06, 2010

the infamous "ad"

You gotta hand it to FOF, they gotta point here:

"Dear Friend,

By now you've likely heard about what's been called the most controversial ad to appear in the Super Bowl in many years--a Focus on the Family® spot featuring Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Tim Tebow and his mother, sharing a message of "celebrate family, celebrate life."

For the past two weeks, major television networks, news outlets and even Saturday Night Live have jumped into the dialogue. We've been accused by a few organizations of being anti-woman, intolerant, divisive, and spewing hate. But what's most amazing about these charges is that they're based entirely on conjecture--none of our critics has yet seen the ad! (Beginning on Sunday, after the game, you can access the ad on

In responding to these charges, Focus President Jim Daly has had the chance to share the true message of this ad in interview after national interview--and the sheer volume of coverage for our message of celebrating family and life has been worth far more than the cost of the ad itself.

Besides that, the media, in covering the controversy, has conveyed many more details about the difficulties surrounding Tim's birth than we've been able to put in one 30-second ad. From the beginning, our goal has been to stimulate a discussion about the beauty of life and a mother's determination to bear that life. Wow, is that conversation ever happening."

Still unsure. Even if I agree with the message of the ad, human life being precious, and protecting the right of an unborn child to stay I agree the ad should have been given a spot during the Superbowl? While I'm no feminist, I still question a Christian organization's desire to throw that much money (2.5 Million) into an ad (no scriptures indicate advertising as a path to religion that's "Pure & Faultless.") Then again, maybe it's just another case of Andy Stanley and the bridge. When you're that big, even simple things gotta cost a lot of money. Eh?

What do you think?

Friday, February 05, 2010

Speeches vs. Systems

Recently in a pastoral resourcing day provided by our conference, we spent time some listening to a talk by Andy Stanley. His focus was on "Systems" within churches, and how some are very conducive to ministry and leadership/discipleship/etc., but some actually impede these areas. I thought much of his talk was also very appropriate to the home, and being a parent who pays attention to what "systems" exist in our families.

Toward the beginning of his talk, Stanley said "Talks don't create behaviors, systems create behaviors." Not sure this is true 100% of the time, believing in the Holy Spirit to work through words becoming flesh, etc. There are exceptions. But it's an important reminder that setting up a pattern for disciples to be developed is much more affective than simply saying "let's make disciples" from the pulpit.

Another quote worth noting came from one of our fellow pastors that day. Pastor Doug Newton said, "We live in a system that does not lead people to follow." That can also be a true statement. We live in a world that is not set up to encourage "followers".

Usually the focus is either on becoming such a great leader that tons of people follow you, or energy and excitement levels are diminished to the point where following simply happens as a passive experience. We live in a world that emphasizes the loud, powerful, and entertaining or attractive. And a world where the majority of the general public finds themselves living each day without much thought toward the patterns and systems they find themselves participating in.

How often are we involved in actively following? In purposefully following, and calling others to a participatory experience of following Jesus Christ.

I believe our churches can be such a place. A place where being labeled a "follower" is an okay thing. Where not everyone needs to be a "leader", even though they may be encouraging others to follow them as they follow Christ.

That same day, some good questions were encouraged to be discussed:

- What values and behaviors are the current systems (in our home and/or church) communicating and promoting? How might God call these to change?

- What are we accidentally rewarding, emphasizing, or undervaluing...and then get upset when it is seen in those we lead/parent?

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Lily Livin'...

Matthew 6:25-29 "25 "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, F54 or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? F55 28 And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these."

It's not easy. Especially if you can see, hear, read, listen, etc. You don't have to watch tv, or read a paper or website for very long to find a reason someone else wants us to worry. We are a people whose fearful resources are being competed for on a daily basis. So many causes, arenas, events, products, organizations, etc. want our attention. How is our attention easily obtained? Generate fear or worry.

And so it happens. Constantly. Even to the point where things like "Saturday Night Live" and other comedic sources poke fun at it. But in the midst of the poking, it continues to grip our lives.

It is into this world, we are called and sent as people of exist differently. The words of Christ in Matthew chapter 6 are not a wise fiscal plan. They don't account for all the needs, and don't spell out details of how someone can honor God with their resources both now, and the tomorrows to come.

But in the midst of a world filled with legitimate concerns and a daily torrent of concerns we're being sold....we are called to "consider the lilies" as a way of following Christ. How are we doing, Church?

I get a flood of church advertising in my mailbox on a weekly basis. Always a new seminar, technology, or event happening "near you!!" that promises to rescue my ministry from whatever panic-button issue they want me to believe I'm struggling with. Churches make the news on a regular basis for actions and words that don't reflect the heart of Christ, always with a martyr-like defense justifying them in their "holy crusade".

Do people who follow Christ care? Definitely. We see passion, emotion, and a dramatic distaste for injustice and the brokenness of creation. But it is not a care that draws us to fortify, protect, and further our "crusades". It is a care that draws us to give sacrificially, to speak for the mute, to show love in the face of hate, mercy in the face of un-forgiveness, and life in the face of death.

And to from worry. To observe how the lilies God will finish what He began. Our moments are not the beginning, or the end. We continue the work of Christ, and we do so with every fiber of our being...but not to the sacrifice of the message He lived.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Frostbitten - 2010

This year's Frostbite had the theme "Choose to Live". Our speaker, Pastor Drew Brandt, brought 4 powerful messages to the table:

1. God has a plan for your life, and desires that we CHOOSE to seek and follow His Will.

2. Our relationships are important, and who we CHOOSE to spend our life with, and how we CHOOSE to offer ourselves in purity to them is VERY important.

3. God has already given us a clear calling, and desires that we CHOOSE in that calling as a part of CHOOSING our career as well.

4. Overall, the most important choice we will make reflects the choice made by Peter when responding to Christ's question in Luke 9:20 - "Who do you say I am?" Our life is a response to that question....who does your life say Jesus Christ is?

Overall, it was a great weekend. Great time in "retreat" with about 150 teens and leaders. A stack of response forms reveals God was at work in many lives, and we continue to pray as that transformation becomes flesh in their everyday living.

Learned valuable lessons:

1. Boys cabins and girls cabins have always been that way. Don't change it. :)

2. Some people actually DO try and sneak into a Christian retreat. It seems several did. Still not upset about this, but wondering still how to respond in a way that loves the people who paid and got upset others evaded payment.

3. Teens who drive themselves need to be given strict "you're still a teenager, and need to stay on grounds" boundaries.

4. If I want a leader in every cabin, and to make sure every cabin is being actively cared for....I need to communicate/facilitate that. Our volunteers are stinkin' awesome. :)

...and a few more. But again...incredible weekend, great worship with both the PJ Summers Band, and Greenville FM's youth worship band. Incredible volunteers and workers really stepped up when needed, God was worshiped, and teenagers continue to tug at my heart for Jesus. :)

I'm in the right place.