Wednesday, June 30, 2010

beyond "rules" and more genuine than "genuine"

Admittedly, it's taking a big longer than usual for me to make my way through "After You Believe" by NT Wright. 

So far Wright has been focusing on things like "What is good?",  "What are we to do as humans?", and particularly the Christian discussion of these things.  The fact there seems to be 2 main groups, both of extreme:

On one side, you have someone who believes Christianity and following Christ are about what we do and don't do.  A list of rules and lifestyle choices God has pointed out for us, that we follow out of obedience and love.

On the other side, you have someone who believes Jesus came to abolish rule-following.  That we've been released to discover and follow who our "genuine" self is, and follow that.  Both of these extremes often having the same goal in mind.

What NT Wright discusses instead is a third, and more complete view of what it seems Christ and the early Church were advocating.  That not only are there certain things we simply "obey" as our lives come under the authority of God, but we are also to be developing "Christian Character" so that our "true selves" are becoming more and more a 2nd nature type of Jesus-following.

Which apparently is a lost discussion these days, especially compared to the early Christians.  Many of the early Christians had taken concepts of Plato's "Cardinal Virtues", and the Aristotelian concept of "Eudaimonia"...and improved them with a framework and goal that was a bit less vague and subjective.  A purpose that goes beyond simply "happiness" or "the greatest common good".

I want to post more on the topic, but this is already a bit long to go into it.  So come back :)

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Camp - Day 5

Our final day of camp was pretty tasty indeed.  Well, if by tasty you include the fact that it was ridiculously hot once again, compelling me to stay in AC controlled environments.  Those teens are tough, too.  Most of them seemed to not realize it was anything beyond a comfortable 77 degrees outside.

Our final morning time together we spend talking about not eating from the fruit called "Despair".  We were reminded that we are people of HOPE, and that Jesus desires to take EVERY bit and piece of our life....the pieces that we love to share with Him...and the odds and ends that seem to be filled with pain.  Jesus desires to use each of these as HOPE-FILLED building blocks for the Kingdom that is coming.

When I was in high school, I went on a mission trip with my youth group to New Jersey.  I don't remember a ton of what was taught by our youth pastor.  I do remember serving in some of the poorest areas of Atlantic City.  I also remember the phrase "CHOOSE TO SERVE" because at some point on our trip together, we were given little hand towels (associated with a foot-washing ceremony) with those words printed on it.

With that in mind, I wanted to be able to offer the teens a concrete physical reminder to take home with them of what we'd been talking about.  My wife and oldest daughter came to my rescue, by writing the word "HOPE" on 100 giant legos. 

What came from that, beyond some really cool photo opportunities of legos spread across a long wooden altar; was a time of prayer with leaders and students.  Prayers that Jesus would take specific situations and our lives altogether and bring HIS Purpose and HOPE to use these things as building blocks in His Kingdom that is, and is to come.

Altogether an incredible week...on location.  My larger prayer is that as these living building blocks of God's Kingdom return to their respective environments...humanity and creation feel ripples of the Spirit's transforming work in their lives....may God be with each of them...

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Camp - Day 4

Fridays are pretty good days.  Whether back in school years where everyone looked forward to the weekend, even if you didn't have any plans other than to sit around waiting for Monday again.  Even as adults now, it seems most people are excited about the collective sigh of the workforce, as they're released until Monday returns.

But at a camp that lasts from Tuesday through Saturday, Friday is just a little different.  It's the last full day of camp.  For that boy who's been working up the nerve to talk to that girl all week, today was do or die.  For the counselor who really really wanted to connect with that quiet teenager, today may have been one of their final opportunities.  For a life that God desires to transform in a unique way this week, today may be the day that teen decides their life is ripe for God to harvest for His use.

Friday morning we talked about "Insecurities", and not eating from that fruit.  We experienced a time of prayer where we envisioned all of the eyes that are on us throughout life.  Whether our parents, our peers, the world, the opposite gender, etc.  Then we heard words from Jesus, calling us to look at His eyes...and to realize how He looks at us.  The teens then shredded a card at the altar that contained the list of names they'd previously been insecure around.

Friday evening we talked about being "Ambassadors for Christ" with Paul, and becoming the "Righteousness of God".  About that not being a fluffy, or inconceivably impossible goal of how we live.  Compared it to a small Lego set with a picture on the box, meant to assemble a specific thing.  If you tried to assemble it into something else, it wouldn't work very well.  But creating what it was made for, there is a "right-ness" to it.  God desires to restore our "right-ness"; what we were created to exist as....and desires us to be Ambassadors of a coming Kingdom where that "right-ness" reigns.  God was definitely at work in our time together...and beyond.

Oh yes...and we have been getting quite a few rocks stuck in our sandals...

And I finally got to revert back to my summer camp days, and do something a bit out of the ordinary...

Friday, June 25, 2010

Camp - Day 3

So crazy thunderstorms rolled in during the night, lowering the high temperature from Wednesday's 97, to the crazy low temperature of 85 on Thursday.  It was a beautiful thing.  The birds were happier.  The skies were bluer.  The clouds were fluffier.  And let's face it....we weren't as sweaty.

I began the day with learning an important lesson - fake dollar bills are too thin for a paper shredder to notice.  Just in case you're ever in a predicament where it depends upon you shredding fake paper dollar bills, now you know. :)

In the morning, we talked about not serving two masters.  The teens were guided through a prayer experience, where Jesus challenged them to open the door, allowing Him access to an area of their life that previously they'd not wanted Him.  Whether something traumatic they've gone through, or an area they're hiding, or perhaps even an area they were unaware missed His presence until they took that walk with Him.

In any case, the Joy of the Lord was pretty sweet, as the teens came forward.  They had written the name of their "door" on the back of the dollar bill.  This door was a "master" in their life, and they ripped the bill in half and threw it away.  Jesus gained access to many previously closed areas of lives this week.....:)

Which, as a speaker, led me to another thought.  Coming into the week, I felt a lot of pressure, perhaps my own, to make sure at least one night of camp had a crazy large altar call.  I imagined many crying teens, recognizing their need for transformation, and beginning it at the altar.  I thought that possibly my speaking ability might even be judged based on whether or not that happened.

Here we are mid-week, and I've finally been released from that.  In our mornings together, we have a prayer experience with Jesus that is followed by a physical response.  After both morning and evening sessions, the teens spend time in small groups, discussing and praying about what God was saying in service.  There are plenty of opportunities for lives to be transformed in a context that makes more sense for a mid-western junior higher from 2010.  Not saying the altar experience is outdated, by any means...and I still pray some catch that sort of experience.  But if I don't witness one this week, I still believe God has been, and is at work in these lives...and it is good. :)

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Camp - Day 2

A picture is worth a thousand words, right? So here you go. Here's what the tabernacle looks like....pretty sweet deal. No AC, and open to the great outdoors...but through the sweat we can see God's creation...and imagine Him making it NEW as we meet. The focus of the week is 2 Corinthians chapter 5.

In the morning sessions, we're talking about some practical applications. Some "character" traits of someone living as "made new". This morning it was not eating of the fruit of "SELF". We closed with each teen writing a name/etc. on a name tag, and placing it on a mirror. Symbolizing a prayer that God would help them see "______" before themselves.

And yes...loving being able to take breaks from the camp life to play a little "Ring Around the Rosie" with my girls. This is life. :)

Tuesday, June 22, 2010


When I was young, I went to camps. Church camp, YMCA camp, Youth Haven Ranch, etc. I loved it. Every week away to a new destination, another group of people to meet, and another chance to establish an identity that was closer to the me I felt like I was than the one I was able to live out in school. Does that make sense? Also enjoyed the Spiritual "shot in the arm" type benefit that came from many of the experiences.

Late in High School, that transformed a bit, when I was able to work at a camp for the whole summer. No longer was I bound by the camper code, but I was released into the freedom, joys, and responsibilities of a camp worker. It also meant new relationships that lasted an entire summer, instead of the weekly drama of camper-cycles.

In college, the world changed once more as I became part of a group that traveled to about 8 camps over summer, leading worship and ministering to the youth. On stage in front of hundreds of teens, ministering in a variety of settings, traveling all over the midwest...I gained experiences that have helped me become much of who I am today.

And today, the camping world transformed once more, as I took another step. Speaking at a Free Methodist Camp for Junior High students. Only one service under my belt...but I loved it. Definitely feeling the pressure of wanting to present the most faithful words from God possible for the lives present....praying that God takes what I offer and makes it His.

And oh yes....I brought my family this time. A whole new dynamic to the camp experience. Forces me to slow down. To quiet my "self". To be okay missing out on some things, in order to experience the full week as a family as much as possible. I am a blessed man. :)

ps. Shout out to Mr. Jeremiah Bolich. I gotta be honest, traveling all over and seeing TONS of camp pastors in action...I learned a lot from that guy. About being a man after Christ, and a man who loves others....and speaks at camps. :) Thanks Bolich.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Wheel of Fortune - Condensed. :)

In case you missed it, and don't wanna watch 30 minutes's about 7 minutes of highlights. :)

Sunday, June 20, 2010


2 Peter 3:10 - "But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up." (KJV)

Based on that verse in the KJV, it'd be easy to believe God's coming to steal us all away like a thief. That everything we know is going to be burned up in actual fire. That "Left Behind" is solid theology.

Thankfully, we have an entire Bible, not one verse. Not only do we have a God who loves His creation, and actively seeks to bring His presence back into what is happening, and bring healing and New Life...with promises of bringing Heaven and Earth together in a New Creation...but we also have the ability to look at the actual words of these verses.

2 Peter 3:10 - "But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and everything that is done on it will be disclosed." (NRSV)

First, it's not "The Lord" that comes like a thief, it's the DAY of the Lord. It comes unexpectedly. We cannot know for sure when. It's surprising, humbling, and we want to be ready. Both translations would agree there.

The elements will be dissolved. The Greek word here is "luo" (looo-oh). This word means "to loose", it has to do with releasing what is bound, setting something free, overthrow, subvert, etc.

The elements will be (released, set free, etc.) with fire. We know the imagery of God being a consuming fire. That throughout the scriptures there are inferences to purifying by fire, all the way back to the presence of God in a bush that did not burn up.

But it seems the largest difference is in the final statement. That all of the earth and everything that is done in it will be "burnt up" vs. "disclosed". The word here is "heurisko" (hyoor-eesko). A word that means "to come upon", to discover, to find out, to see/understand, to know God, etc.

I look forward with hope-filled anticipation, the coming day of the Lord...and work toward that day believing that what is accomplished serves a purpose.  Now...and in the coming Kingdom.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

forgiven and forgiven.

This past week we heard from Luke chapter 7.  A woman enters the scene of Jesus reclined at Simon the Pharisee's table, and begins to kiss his feet, and anoint them with perfume...drying them with her hair.  It's quite a scene, and Jesus points out her undignified response is out of a realization of how much she's been forgiven.

He tells the story of two men, who both owe money.  One a large amount, and one a small amount.  Both are forgiven.  Who loves the forgiver more?  Simon reluctantly answers "the one who was forgiven more".

Forgiveness is mentioned twice here.  The first, in Jesus' story, it pertains to a debt that was owed, and then canceled.  The word used here is "χαρίζομαι" (care-eez-oh-my).  It involves showing grace, which is actually the root word, "χαρίζ" (care-eese).  It involves the restoration of a relationship.  We see this also in Colossians 3:13, where it talks about putting on the New Self:

"Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive."

It's an important aspect and type of forgiveness we yearn be brought into right relationship with God. But there are other times, where a different emphasis is needed. In these cases, it's also very helpful to remember/recognize the power of the God we serve.

When Jesus talks about and to the woman who is anointing his feet, he mentions her sins are forgiven. He says the person who is forgiven much, shows great love. The one forgiven little, loves little. The word used here is "ἀφίημι" (af-ee-ay-mee). This seems to focus on the relationship of the person to the sin. An emphasis on separating them from it, releasing them from it, and allowing them to completely set it down at walk away. We see the word used in Matthew 4:20 when Jesus calls His disciples:

"Immediately they left their nets and followed him."

There are definitely times where our emphasis is on wanting to get rid of a bad habit, a bad choice, a life-damaging path or element we've found ourselves to have. I'm thankful for a God who recognizes the need for both types of forgiveness, and who is ready to offer both any moment we come to Him... :)

Forgive us Lord. And while you're at it....forgive us too. :)

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Luke 22:13

It's time to celebrate the passover meal.  Jesus doesn't simply tell his disciples "Go get things ready!", and leave it at that.  Nope.  He says, "Go follow a man carrying the jar of water.  He'll go into a home.  When he goes into a home, find the owner of that home, and ask him for the room.  He'll know what you're talking about." (my paraphrase)

Wow.   Really? 

It seems like this is the kind of passage non-believers would make fun of.  A lame man walking, sure.  But a random prophetic coincidence like this?  Silly, right?  And yet, there it is.  Right along side the verses that talk about Jesus breaking the bread and sharing the cup.  Solid stuff.

There's an important connection here.  Two very important things found in verse 13.

First - "they left".  They heard the words of Jesus regarding what to do, and they were compelled to action.  They didn't sit and wait passively...that wasn't their instruction.  If they'd just stood around, who knows what would have happened. 

Many of us have heard God's word in and for our lives.  We have the scriptures, and we've heard God speak His desire for our lives today, and for tomorrow.  Yet so many times, we stand around waiting passively.  Whether for more prodding, or a special blessing, or perhaps even a different word....we often wait.  Where can we be moving even NOW where God has compelled us forward?

Second - "they found".  Jesus had been right.  It was no coincidence.  It was Jesus speaking, and what he had spoken happened.  We hear Jesus say in the book of John that the Son can only do what He sees the Father doing.  So where do we see God speaking, and things happening?  How about Genesis, and the story of creation.  God didn't simply clap his hands, snap his fingers, or say "bibbity boppity boo" and the entire world became.  There's a power in spoken word.  But not in spoken word alone, rather, in speaking the words of God.

Jesus calls us to follow Him.  To live our lives as He lived.  To have such power in the words we speak, that we echo the words of Jesus, and of God at creation.

It makes me think of the words I've spoken in the past week.  The words I will speak this week.  The amount of power and incredible Kingdom work they can accomplish.  Of course, I probably won't tell anyone "Go follow a man with a can of pop.  He'll go into a home.  Find the owner of the home, and ask him for a room."  :)

But I do want to find out where God desires words to be spoken.  Words of Love.  Words of Mercy.  Words of release, life, grace, forgiveness, hope, etc.  And when I find Speak them in His Name...

Friday, June 04, 2010


There seems to be a relation between a persons "need" (or perceived need) for C/church, and their connectedness/relationship to it.  (Or this may all simply be a rant based on being asked "What are we doing in Youth Group?" about 20 times a month by another teen trying to figure out which church is worth their time this week.  They're only asking what the adults around them would love to.)

When I was growing up, we "needed" the church (and Church, in many ways).  Difficult life situations, financial challenges, and my single mom raising five kids on her own made being connected to a loving, safe, praying, Jesus-centered community not only helped - but may have actually been connected to how we all survived it overall.  Mom knew that whatever may come, we needed to stay connected to the church.  Thanks mom. :)

We can all probably think of someone we know who has drifted from previously being very involved in a local congregation.  Not someone who simply switched local parts of the "body", but someone who actually has little to no regular involvement in a particular community seeking Christ together.  Usually, it seems these are not people who are suffering, or poor, or hungry...etc.

It is quite simply...a need that has faded.

Bills are paid, stomachs are fed, the kids are older, and for the most part, life continues just fine.  Still believing in Jesus and all that.  Still thankful that hell is not the destination.  But doing quite alright at this point.

So for those of us who find ourselves near that location on the map...why get up early Sunday morning?  Why commit yet another evening of my week to something I could quite easily not show up for and survive?

How do so many of us who follow Jesus today consider our home church that place we're active with once a month....ish?  Obviously there could be many answers to that question.

But I believe at least one of them is connected to how much the experience of "church", and even "salvation" (or the other way around) is sometimes very much "me" centered.  I believe we need a revival of participating in the Church, and churches...with what the Kingdom, the Church, and the church needs in mind.  Along with those who make it up, and need it.

May we move toward our involvement in local bodies asking ourselves "Where can we serve/add to/join Kingdom work here?" instead of "Will this experience fulfill us today, and be worth what we've given up for it?".  May we seek God's presence over an experience, ethnicity, musical style, social class, or comfort level.

It's hard to write this, without feeling like it will be read as a plea for better church attendance...because I'm a pastor.  Being honest, there probably are some of those thoughts in there.  But not because I think ill of people who enjoy sleeping in, and not because I want anymore dollars in the plate this Sunday.

But because I think Church and our church is more than what I think.  Thankfully. :)

It may also be connected to thinking of the Church as a body, with no part being any greater than the others, but every part offering something incredibly important to what Jesus is accomplishing.  We are missing several body parts on a regular basis.  We are incomplete...sometimes even when that part is sitting in the pew, or standing in the pulpit.

May we each discover what that can mean...

Thursday, June 03, 2010

devil flute

Just an important announcement I felt I should make.  To anyone who is thinking to themselves "I love music.  I want my child to develop musical abilities.  I want my kids to grow up being able to express themselves making creatively audible noises.  I remember playing the recorder when I was young, and I want my little girl/boy, even at age 3, to begin enjoying such an experience."

If you've had any of these thoughts, you may have looked at the Little First Act Discovery - My First Recorder.  Click the link.  See how cute the kid looks?  See how happy he is to be able to create music?  See the list of amazingly simple tunes your child will be able to perform before family and friends, proving once and for all that your kid is the cutest thing since sliced bread (the cute kind).

It's a lie.

That kid was totally faking it.  He wasn't happy.  Or at least, his parents weren't.

Granted, the recorder definitely makes noise.  But even from a trained recorder playing professional (I played 2 years all-pro in my elementary days.), the notes available don't allow for much of any actual music to be played.  I did learn that by covering the bottom hole, you can play notes a little more agreeable to the human ear, but still off by quite a bit from anything you could piece together into a song.

Giving this recorder to your child will do nothing but encourage bad pitch recognition, make your ear drums want to pack their bags, and teach your future musician that Mary Had a Little Lamb is best played with sharps and flats that aren't anywhere near the Barney song they've heard before.

And you will want to break it.  But your kid may give you the fake "this musical instrument fulfills something within me" smile similar to the child in the link above.  Don't buy it.  I have yet to gather the emotional strength it takes to shatter the thing....but when I do....I will rest easier. 

That is why I'm warning you, before you make the purchase.  Or open the present from a loving relative. it for something else before it's too late!!!

ps.  Today, Ruby Anne turns ONE YEAR OLD!!!  We now officially have a 3 year old, a 2 year old, and a 1 year old.  Whew. :)

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

After you Believe

I'm beginning to read "After You Believe" by NT Write, which is a follow-up to his book "Surprised by Hope".  I'm familiar with much of what he'll be discussing, simply having listened to a great deal of his talks in the past year on themes such as "character", and "virtue", but I'm looking forward to hearing what he has to say when given more time and space to develop those areas, and take them a bit further.

For now, I thought I'd toss out a quote for anyone who might be wondering "Why would I want to read that book?":

Maybe your heart echos the questions fo this man who'd recently become a Christian, and was looking for more than simply an eternal guarantee of destination...

"God loves me; yes.

He's transformed my life so that I find I want to pray, to worship, to read the Bible, to abandon the old self-destructive ways I used to behave.  That's great.

Clearly (the people at church kept saying this, too) God wants me to tell other people about this good nwes, so that they can find it for themselves.  Fine.  It feels a bit strange, and I'm not sure I'm very good at it, but I'm doing the best I can.

And obviously all this comes with the great promise that one day I'll be with God forever.  I know I'll die one day, but Jesus has guaranteed thatt everybody who trusts him will live with him in heaven.  That's great too. 

But what am I here for now?  What happens after you believe? "

The book that follows is quite good...I promise.  Check it out. :)