Friday, December 16, 2011

a minute of thanks.

(wrote this to read to my church after pastor appreciation month, was supposed to stay 60 seconds or less)

60 seconds to drop a few words on the spot
about the love I got for my Moundford Fam
For the care they've shown as my children have grown
And they've known more about who I am.

For the cards, and the cookies, the smiles and the calls
But most of all for the love overflowing
For the fact that God's only still beginning to sprout
The fruit from the seeds that we're sewing.

A Michigander I am, and I'll always be,
But Decatur I surely call home.
You've seen me be goofy, make you proud on TV,
And love my family like one of your own.

I've seen you give of your time and your money,
'Til backs ache and sweat pours off your brows.
I've seen a city transformed by your love,
Without anyone taking credit with bows.

And so after a month of receiving your thanks,
Your cards and appreciation.
It seems a short poem is like using a squirt gun
To fill a Semi at a gas station.

So I hope you will know throughout the whole year
Just how much my family you are.
And together with Christ as our center and source,
I look forward to Him taking us far.  (-ther)

:)

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

sore loser.


Mr. Ramsey - are you listening?

Dave Ramsey gave away $10,000 today. It was incredible.

The winner said he entered 600 times. Dave laughed. Gave him an audible "high five". Congratulated him. Encouraged others that we too could be winners like this guy.

It seems Dave Ramsey would advocate better use of time than that. Gambling is addictive.

He said about a million people entered his contest?
Let's figure each entry took a minute to complete.
That's over 16,600 HOURS of time donated to entering this contest.

Is taking away 16,600 hours of time people could be spending with family, friends, work, etc.....worth the 10,000 bucks?

Probably not.

Let's say the winner was fast, and was able to do 3 entries per minute...he still spent over 3 hours sitting at his computer doing nothing but clicking your website. Are you advocating millions of people should waste away their holiday moments like this?

I could just be a sore loser too. :)

Rant over.

(full discloser: My wife and I took FPU, and benefited from it.  I'm currently finishing up teaching "Generation Change" to our church's youth group.  It's not perfect - but tweaked a bit to touch all the resources we can honor God with - it's a great conversation/small group starter.)

Friday, November 25, 2011

Outdoor Nativity Sets


I've been given the opportunity to share my thoughts/experiences on "Outdoor Nativity Sets" with you!!  Be sure and watch the video, that shows how easy the set-up is, even for the average Joe who doesn't read the directions much at all for as OCD as he usually is.

It looks a little wobbly in the video, but rest assured, after attaching the brackets to the back of it, sliding the metal poles into both sides and into the ground....this thing isn't going anywhere!!!

As much as I would really love a giant glowing plastic Santa, or a huge inflatable snowman to frighten children with and reduce the value of our neighborhood listings......I'm stuck with this.  A dignified, simple, elegant way to say "We've decorated our yard with Jesus."

And really, who doesn't wanna say that? :) Check out OutdoorNativitySets.com for more info!!


Tuesday, September 20, 2011

glad you asked...

In the final chapter of my book, I talk about God making us in His image – as creative beings. Along those lines, a poem that came from a combination of reading a great book on the history of Heaven, and some time in prayer:

I was captured late one evening, watching Leno with my wife.
Feeling fine, and looking forward to his guest.
I remember getting lost in admiration as she yawned,
and I knew my wife was needing to get some rest.

I would never again tell her, that I was filled with love,
For her presence, for her comfort, and her heart.
As I was captured somewhere else, no moments to look back-
No telling her that I was to depart.

But sadness wasn’t pressing in on me, no mourning tears in my eyes.
The rush of “other-ness” was close at hand.
In all my years of praying, reading scripture, and imagining,
Nothing prepared me for how I left this land.

From dreaming into consciousness – I was born again, again.
Like going underwater, or emerging from a tent.
From darkness into light, and from parched land into flooded-
I didn’t so much as “go” as I was “sent”.

The atmosphere was buzzing like I had never seen,
My eyes struggled to bring images into sight.
Slowly from the haze, clouded warmth, and all the “other”,
There began to make some sense of overwhelming light.

I was being led by someone, who knew my name quite well.
I tried to look, but they moved like rushing wind.
In an instant, I felt assured of forgiveness-
Granted release and pardon for my sins.

We arrived somewhere I’d never seen in all my years of thinking,
Of dreaming and of wondering what comes next-
Surrounded by what I somehow knew were 72 virgins,
In the midst of a giant gardening complex.

He saw my confused and surprised facial expression, as I took in my surroundings
I was forced to change position into sitting.
I saw a grin sneak up upon his face,
He pulled my hand with a wink, and said, “I’m only kidding!”

In an instant we were surrounded by a giant grassy field,
Guitar was strumming somewhere distantly.
I was guided to top of the largest mountain around,
And at the top, a simple Bodhi Tree.

But once again, he saw my face had not expected this
He asked me to describe what I was thinking.
I found myself at a loss for words, I looked back and saw Him smile,
As the tree and the mountains started shrinking.

The physical world I was used to began to disappear from sight,
And I wondered what might still remain in store.
When suddenly we were reclined sipping Arnold Palmers
As the ocean waves crashed upon the shore.

“Is this Heaven?” I asked him. First, He took a sip,
And looked over his sunglasses silently.
He gestured up the beach at my ancestors lounging
As a sailboat passed us by He said, “You tell me.”

“I guess I didn’t know what to expect exactly”
I said to him not knowing what to say.
“I just figured as long as I was in your presence
Whatever that was like, I’d want to stay.”

He nodded his approval, like he’d heard it all before,
And grabbed my hand gently one more time-
We ascended and ascended until my head was spinning wildly,
And I didn’t think there was much more we could climb.

He sat me down upon a cloud, the curb of golden highways-
Angels strumming in the distant shining sky.
I looked to see a mansion with my nameplate on the mailbox,
He looked at me, as if expecting a reply.

I wept without preparing, I worshiped at his feet.
I sang every song that I had ever heard.
At several points I thought of telling him what I was thinking,
But every time I found myself absurd.

Finally when time had passed, he gently dried my tears,
And gave me time to rest my tired eyes.
Letting go of what I wanted to say, I found some words,
And waiting for me to speak, he helped me rise…

“I have a lot of things” I said, “That I think Heaven should be,
Most come from books, and pictures and stories told.
Still some are things that I want to experience, but now that I’m here,
I’m not sure that I’m buying what I’ve been sold.”

He flashed a loving smile at me, as a Father would his child
With a look that assured me I was up to the task.
As I looked at Him, all I could say was “What did you have planned?”
His smile growing large, he said, “I’m glad you asked…”

1 Corinthians 2:9 “However, as it is written: “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him”

Monday, September 19, 2011

placing Jesus.

"We were left to believe that Jesus was physically raised from the dead but no longer present in any particular place." - Ken Wilson, Mystically Wired


In chapter 4 of his book, Wilson talks about prayer as a location.  As something we participate in by "going somewhere".  I find metaphorical hungers being fed in this chapter, that have been grumbling for quite sometime now.  So much so, that even as I begin chapter 5, I highly recommend this book to anyone launching into new realms of prayer. (note: my entire local church family) :)

In his book, he is gradually re-introducing Christianity as a religion with roots in Eastern/Middle-Eastern traditions, while remaining very scripture/experience/reason centered as well.  He begins with the frustrations that I'm well familiar with, and would venture to say many others would be as well.  Wilson reminds us of what prayer truly can be, and that our frustrations with prayer generally stem from our attempts to make it something else.


Later in the book, it seems, he introduces many prayer techniques that may be new to many people.  These techniques and prayers find their sources in ancient practices that have been used by Christ-followers and God-seekers for a very long time.  I remember being introduced to many of these back in college, while reading The Sacred Way, by Tony Jones.

What I hadn't received with Jones' book, was the much on the theology of space/place.  The words from Wilson's book here, as quoted above, help to fill a gap that has existed for quite sometime.  It's something that is simultaneously quite complex and mysterious, and yet simple for us to grasp:


1. We pray in the resurrected Jesus, and in His name.  We believe He stands as the bridge between the world/creation as it is (broken and dying from sin), and the New Heavens and New Earth God desires to bring about.  (Colossians 1:18)
2. We believe Jesus has been bodily/physically resurrected, and exists somewhere/somehow as the resurrected Christ.  Scripture tells us He has gone to be with the Father (John 16:28)
3. So it follows, when we pray in Jesus, we are connecting/participating in that place where God is.  We cannot explain/rationalize this away, and probably cannot grasp just how important it may be.

Wilson reminds us that for ages, "heaven" was believed to be "up there" somewhere.  At some point, science allowed us to see/travel much further than eyes had previously seen.  We discovered there was no "up there" besides the seemingly infinite "space".  When that happened, heaven took the form of an "idea" and became spiritually intangible.  Prayer became more and more an introspective "what happens inside of me" journey, and the focus became more and more within...even though we still believed we were connecting with a very real God.

That same realm of science is discovering there are things we cannot know/explain.  There are atomic and quantum levels of existence that we cannot know or predict, and some things seem to point toward parallel universes/dimensions.  So what exactly does prayer accomplish in regard to our relationship to a God who may be "located" more fully in another "dimension"?  What does that even mean? :)

I don't know. :)

But it certainly increases my urge/desire to spend more time going before that God, and praying in Jesus' name.  Not because I believe in some gnostic magical passage I'll discover, but because I believe in the bodily resurrected Christ who has called us to pray in His name...perhaps I'll even take my family with me. :)

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

i am an author.

I remember in college, I was determined to prove that a certain “Poetry” contest was a scam. I had too many people who’d bragged about writing a piece of poetry that was “chosen to be included” or “won a spot within” a volume of selected writings (available for a large fee). So I found a brownie recipe, and went to work. I copied that recipe, word for word, even including some of the numbers. I snickered a bit, thinking there’s no way this would actually work.

A short while later, I received my “Congrats!” letter in the mail. Sure enough, my “poem” had been chosen above many entries to be included in a collection of poetry by new authors just like me! So did I call my mom and excitedly announce my dreams as a creative author had finally become actualized?? Nope. I smiled a bit, thankful I wasn’t going to shell out the money to purchase my poem within a book. Though the wooden plaque with my poem mounted upon it might be handy in the kitchen someday….I decided against it. The cost of a joke should never outweigh it’s value in humor. And this was more sad, than funny. I became skeptical of anyone saying they’d been published in a book, if it didn’t involve a contract.

I may have not mentioned it before, but my daughters are professional artists. Seriously. You should see them draw my likeness: Giant round head, and arms that stick out like twigs from a dying bush. They’ve been offered contracts at museums in New York and Chicago, but we really want to keep them well-grounded. So for now, it’s the giant rolls of paper from IKEA on our mini-easel.

Okay, so they may not be able to sell much to even our local art auctions…but when you watch my daughter lean into that paper with a half-crayon with no paper left to pick away…you know artistic genius is at work. I love watching her, and I pray she continues to feel the creative freedom she exhibits in that moment. As she creates on paper, she is reflecting God into a world that needs His image.

It also challenges me.

Since March, I’ve been sitting on a fully written book about how God can use parenting to transform us. I’ve been waiting for a publisher to take a chance on me, and move toward publication. I’ve always subconsciously felt that self-published books were a sign that the material inside wasn’t worth a publisher’s attention. So I continued to wait.

But why did I write? Because God has used parenting to change who I am, and I believe He’s only begun. Because I wanted to put some of that into words, so that others may realize what He could already be doing in their lives as well, and offer new hope to those expectant parents learning Lamaze, still eating bad cookies and punch. But my daughters won’t wait to show people they love, a drawing they’re proud of – they’ll grab it and place it on the highest mountain (or fridge) they can reach!

So here we are. I don’t have a physical book published (yet?). But I’ve written words that I believe are only possible because of God’s work in my life. I’m proud/thankful for them, and believe they can offer much to those beginning this journey of parenthood. It’s available for $2.99 via electronic download (you don’t need a Kindle, you can use your computer using the free software they offer!!) until some publisher decides it’s worth putting into a larger market. But in the words of Lamar Burton, “You don’t have to take my word for it…”

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

a nu thang.

You may have heard by now, I've written a manuscript that I hope becomes a book.  I've been e-mailing back and forth with editors for Beacon Hill Publishing since October 2010.  Honestly, it takes quite a bit longer to hear from them than I'd anticipated.  At one point, they responded favorably, even asking if I'd change a few things in the first few chapters.  They liked what I'd written, and told me I would hear back from them.

So here we are, several months from that point, and I've yet to hear what they're planning/not planning.  Maybe they're working hard to figure out how to best market/push the book, and what sorts of speaking engagements I might be good for.  Maybe they're figuring out how to let me down easily, not wanting to bruise my tender ego.  Maybe the manuscript got shoved down in someone's bookbag, and they've received 30 other books since then.  It's got some coffee on it, and it may have been thrown out with the soggy napkins weeks ago.

In any case, I feel strongly enough that the words I've written have helped me as a parent, and I want to share them with other young parents, and those who will soon have children.  I'm currently going back through what I've written, doing some cleaning up and editing.  My plan is to finish editing, create an attractive book cover, and upload my manuscript as an "Amazon Kindle" book for now.  I realize that may aim for a smaller market, but the good news is, you can use Kindle's software on your computer, laptop, iPod touch, or iPad to read books as well.  Hopefully I can get the word out once it's released.  If you would invite me to post something on your blog at that point - I would LOVE to be a guest of yours.

I've also created a new webpage/blog, "www.differentparent.com" (The working title of the book is: "Different: How God Uses Parenting to Transform Us Wholly").  I intend to use that website to focus on God using parenting, and other parenting type posts/etc.  I realize my personal blog here has too many other topics/ramblings to attract the attention of my books' primary audience.

All that to say, watch for updates!  If you can help me get the word out about my blog in any way for now, I'd love the help!  I will let you know if I hear from Beacon Hill, or if I'm going through Amazon as soon as I know anything!  Thanks for reading!!!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

foncusion

"You need to look out for you.  You are your number one concern.  Look out for yourself, and what you need, and you will succeed.  If you find anyone in your crew who is looking out for themselves, kick 'em out, because they're not going to help you." - paraphrased quote from today's rally

Whoa.  I was confused.  Seriously.  Here are gathered a couple hundred people under the theme of "Pump up the Pride - Uniform Rally".  It's true, they talked about uniforms, and how it's a positive change.  People clapped.  They gave away some free pop.  It was delicious.  But honestly, many were there simply to pick up their school schedules.  The main speaker was a judge from the County Courthouse, who spoke largely in quotes and idioms.

But I understand the heart and desire.  There are large numbers of our high schoolers who serve social/worldly pressures.  We say "give into peer pressure", but the pressure doesn't usually come from a peer anymore, it's bigger than that.  As evidenced by today's rally:

Beneath the uniforms, call to responsible living, and promise that you can end up being an author, professional dancer, or professional musician if you simply work hard enough...there was a quiet undertone.  The undertone that says, "We're not sure if you'll like us if we ask you to grow up, so we'll try to make it sound/look attractive."

There were words against drugs.  Against having sex.  Against drinking, and committing crimes.  All sponsored by our local radio "rap" station that plays songs depicting drugs, sex, drinking, and criminal mindsets.  There was a short "catwalk" of high school models wearing acceptable uniforms for the year ahead, and after their walk they were asked to do dances ("Dougie", and "Cat Daddy" to be specific...warning: those links contain offensive language) to compete for a free backpack.  I felt awkward for them, and sad for our community that this is our display of how we take pride in young men and women growing up.

All that to say, how do we expect the next generation to grow into becoming men and women who respect themselves and know how to make wise decisions/difficult choices even if they're not accepted well by others...if we don't know how to model that?

May we begin with prayer...from repentance, to restoration, to renewal...

Friday, August 05, 2011

Homeschool Expo Father

They said the pool was open at 5am.  Sure, the workout room was open.  But the little red light from the pool door told me I was rejected.  Thankfully, Paula from the front desk was awake enough to find the maintenance key and let me in.  A great way to wake up.  But as I sit in the lobby now, refreshed and ready for day 2, some thoughts hit me from day 1.

We're in the midst of attending our first "Chicago Homeschool Expo" as a couple.  Sarah attended last year, and returned very excited that I might come with her this year.  So glad it worked out.  This time, we even paid the extra money to attend the Thursday before the event begins, for "Homeschool 101".  Intended for those just beginning.  My advice?  Definitely come early.  It's great to get settled in.  But save that money for IKEA, and read some articles online instead.

The two women that presented were great people.  Lots of experience there.  But one of the 3 sessions even ended with the statement, "Oh, and don't come to _______ (a seminar) tomorrow, what I just told you was the same thing."  Really?  We paid quite a bit extra to hear what we could have heard tomorrow?

I'm discovering some interesting things in Homeschooling.  Primarily, that there are as many ways of doing it as there are homes.  Here are a couple (rephrased) quotes from yesterday:

"I believe in 7-up.  No children allowed out of their rooms until after 7am, so that the parents can have time to themselves before the day begins.  Before you start your school day, be sure to shower/dress as if your family were leaving the house.  It helps to separate school from home, and communicates what we're doing here matters."

(the other speaker) "Be sure to make sure your household chores are done before homeschooling.  Also, you may want to sleep in until 11am sometimes, that's fine.  In fact, you may even want to just keep everyone's pajamas on.  That's just one of the many benefits of homeschooling!  Heck, you should probably just take the entire month of December off also, because it'll be quite busy anyways."

Wow.  I couldn't believe it.  I can see the importance now of finding like-minded homeschooling families to rub shoulders with.  I can also understand what must go through some people's minds when they discover we're homeschooling our children.  Perhaps their experience has been either ridiculously conservative approaches, or the second quote from above.  I think we find ourselves connecting more with the first speaker quoted above, though I'm sure there will be more relaxed days.  I look forward to the family time this path will allow for our home.

There were some other great things I learned also.  One being simply, to be involved with my wife, because it is a decision WE have made, even if she's the primary "teacher" (though I hope to be involved in what teaching I can also).  She needs to know I'm not only behind her 100%, but standing shoulder to shoulder with her in the education/development of our children.  I have also attained the title of "Principal" of our school.  Mrs. Anderson will have the children report to me if they become disruptive or unruly in class....(snicker).  Seriously though..thinking of myself in that role certainly communicates a more involved role in everything going on.  I like that.

Finally, the reminder that the decision to home school is made on a yearly basis.  It's daunting when someone asks "Are you doing this through graduation from HS?" to answer them "Yup."  Even though that is our goal at this point, we will decide annually, and re-evaluate in the summers.  One year at a time, making sure this is a healthy decision and beneficial for what God is doing in our family/home.  In fear and trembling..

All that to say....here we go....day 2..

Monday, August 01, 2011

youth ministry as failed experiment.

You don't have to look far these days, to find young adults & adults who were once involved in a Church community, and no longer see any need to be.  Many of these have also let go of any felt "need" for Christ/God/etc.  But some feel they're satisfied Spiritually even without being involved in "the institutional church".

Often it seems, we graduate teens who then look for an experience of church that is similar to the addictive product we've called "youth ministry".  Instead of moving into adulthood, many times they leave their churches to find alternative "young adult" or "relevant" ministries.  Sometimes these are connected to larger churches, where relationships can occur.  But often, these are simply islands of ministry, offering to "serve" the unchurched, or de-churched.  It's easy to point a finger.  It's more humbling to realize what that means for the ministry/church I'm pouring my life into. 

Recently a book has been published, and documentary created (view it for free until Sept. 15th) that point out the problem with much of our modern Youth Ministry.  There are some extreme beliefs in the movie (haven't read the book yet, it's on its' way), such as "not believing in literal 6 day creation = evil".  But if you can keep watching past that, there is a great call to family/home/cross-generational/Christ-centered Church.  A calling to parents (although they focus on the men usually here - a subject for another blog) to reclaim their role as the primary source of discipleship for their children.  A calling to pastors to sound that call to parents, and become a champion for them.  A calling to the entire church body to become the family for those children/youth who need fathers, mothers, grandparents, etc...who will lead them towards Christ.

Both in ministry, and as a father of 3 little girls, I want to take these truths to heart and practice.  I want these young people that I love, to be drawn to the Family of Christ, both now and in a way that grows roots for a lifetime.  These are all things we've been praying/working toward as a pastoral staff, ever since before attending the D6 Conference last year in Texas.  To not create a "family/home ministry", but to raise what we've built, and lay a renewed foundation throughout all we do.  A foundation connecting all that we do and are, that resources families/parents/homes to be the places of discipleship/growth.  As a youth pastor,  I want to come alongside parents and support them as they raise children and teens who look forward to continuing a life-long journey of being part of the "Family of God", and raising their own children in the same vein, toward multi-generational faithfulness and global/local transformation/Kingdom of God proclaiming.

That may begin with a repentance of worshiping the gods of modern youth ministry.  It's not about big events, being fun or hip or energetic.  It's not about emotional worship.  It's not even about being ambiguously "relevant/genuine", as if that's all people are thirsty for.  But it's also not about denying all these things.  It's about being the body of Christ. 

I'm a youth pastor.  But I am also a pastor.  I love the people of my family, nursery to nursing home.  I am called to serve all of them.  Called to figure out what changes may need to happen, as with any structure what you change the foundation of - certain things may break/fall.  That may mean a very small "youth group" at times.  But that might be a great place to start...

Thursday, July 28, 2011

sacred.

"What is love, but a word with a meaning?" - Agent Smith

A while back I purchased a book called "Shopping Malls and Other Sacred Spaces" by Jon Pahl. I was looking for a good book on spacial theology, and thought this might be one. By spacial theology, I simply mean the presence of God as located in space (opposed to simply time/events)...along similar lines as the Celtic belief in "thin places". Where the veil between God's space and ours is a bit more thin than usual.

The book ends up being a lot more of a man pointing out the places we manufacture as "sacred", and why/what that looks like. Which leads also to some great words about how we "clothe" God, and even define "sacred". Unfortunately, what we call "sacred" is often a bit further from the presence of God and His Spirit than the word might seem.

Pahl points out that "sacred" in our current popular usage carries a meaning of "not wanting anything else to mess with us while we're there." Building a protected space/experience, and digging our trenches or having others dig them for us so that while we're living in "sacred" space, we will not be disturbed. He gives examples of our home life, our shopping malls, and our Disney Worlds. Places where a fabricated experience exists, often simply "assumed" to be sacred, even if sometimes it's only in our minds.

I've not finished the book yet, mainly because it's one that I'm only reading sporadically...but this first half gives plenty of food for thought. In reading Bishop Kendall's blog this past week, he brings up a similar issue lamenting a reply he received from a congressman about his concern over the debt crisis.  Kendall says of the congressman's response, "nothing was sacred—not even persons, if a crisis became severe enough."

But there's another definition of "sacred" that I'm searching for.  Not simply for my home/family, but for the space I invite others into - both as pastor and as follower of Christ.  So what would we consider "sacred" in our own lives? By this I do not mean "unalterable or protected" as the locations mentioned previously.  I mean, where in our lives (both time and space) is the presence of God so fully real/realized that it is palpable? 

I've probably not said what I wanted to say well, so I'll offer a quick summary:  Are we defining "sacred" this week by how "controlled/unchangeable" our events/spaces are?  Or by being dedicated to/filled with the living presence of God and His Kingdom?

Because it seems that how we define/relate to "sacred" may be rubbing off on what we consider "Holy" as well...

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

guilt and justice.

It's been an interesting week in the realm of pop court cases.  By which I mean, two completely separate trials - one of an ex-Governor of the State of Illinois, and one of a mother in Florida.  In this past week, there has been arm-pumping by Illinois residents, even by many who admit the punishment for Rod Blagojevich will probably not be adequate.  There has more recently been an outpouring of complaints over the "not guilty" verdict of Casey Anthony, a Florida mother accused of murdering her daughter.  I didn't follow either case closely, with the pop-court-media-circus extending the entertainment value far beyond what was necessary.  But it seems both were guilty, even though the prosecutors for Ms. Anthony could not provide proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

It seems much of the work in these cases, and many more like them, is focusing the attention and desire for "Justice" onto a single person/act/verdict/punishment.  There is very little desire/pleading/mourning for the fact that things like this happen.  Crimes like these are committed.  We live in a broken world, one where we very much need for God to move, and move completely/fully/wholly.

So what of our response as citizens of the Kingdom of God?  There are plenty of verses that admonish us to "seek Justice".  We are created by a Just God, and in His image.  Even though that image needs repairing, His fingerprint of what is "just" is among us.  Even as young children, fighting over a toy, there is a desire for someone to come and make things "just" once again.  Of course, we may respond differently if we're the ones acting in an unjust manner.  Not quite as exciting.

I believe we are called to remind the world around us that it's not as much about these individual cases as the media sometimes wants us to believe.  Of course these individual instances matter.  It's horrible that Caylee Anthony was killed, and our prayer is that whoever was involved will experience the "setting things right" and justice that God offers.  But to limit our weeping to the Anthony family, or our own when we experience such horrors, is to miss out on connecting with the heart of God. 

A heart that weeps just as much that someone would commit such an act, as for the victim of it.  A desire for a world to be set right.  To be made whole.  To experience restoration and renewal in a way that we can experience in small ways here and now, but look forward to being flooded by, someday.

There are many looking at each other this week, asking the question "Where is Justice?"  May we, as followers of God - the author of what is "Just", and who has promised to set all things right once again - speak as believers of that promise.  Justice is coming.  Not simply as punishment for those who murder and walk away.  Not simply as a supernatural "nod" to the "justice" we've administered ourselves.  But as a complete and cosmic renewal/restoration toward the Lord we've already begun to serve/declare to a universe in need of healing.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

separation anxiety...

Recently Addison (our 4 year old) was playing with action figure Jesus among many other toys along with her younger sister, Sophie.  I enjoy watching them play, though usually it's hard not to get invited in.  They were beginning to play with several "dolls" at the same time, and setting up what was happening.  That's when it happened.

Addie stood up from where they were playing, and carried action figure Jesus all the way across the room, setting him down on a chair.  "Jesus is all the way over here, because he is far far away from all of us in the real world."

Yikes.  All of a sudden, this topic about what God has in store for us, which has fundamental roots in "Where Heaven is" seems like much more central than previously thought.  We know that where the Son resides presently is not in some far off location, that only if we had a telescope powerful enough, we could spot.  Yet, without thinking about it, that is precisely the theology many Christians subscribe to.  That Jesus is somewhere "up there", and that someday he will come "down here" to take those who love him to a portion of the galaxy somehow untouched by sin for all these years. 

How is that conveying the fact that many times in the New Testament, we find words describing our savior such as "Immanuel", "God With Us", or even bluntly "I am with you..."?

I've talked before, and better interpreters and theologians have said with better language, where Jesus is presently seems much more another dimension of the physical space as we understand it right here.  In the resurrected Christ, we see the marriage of these dimensions, and the possibilities of moving between these dimensions in our future "resurrection bodies".  But at the moment, our connection to this ultimate "reality" is veiled until God determines to lift that veil, revealing and pouring Himself out completely.  Calling our present existence a veiled reality is not escapism.  For this is the very physical world that God desires to lift the veil, revealing Himself as Lord and pouring out his resurrection life, bringing about the complete restoration of.  We live here and now as citizens of that now and future Kingdom...announcing Jesus as Lord by our very lives. 

He is not crouched behind a dimensional rock, hiding in wait for "someday", either.  He has given us His Spirit, so that we might actually be involved/freed here and now, to live in the way we will exist when the veil is lifted completely.  He actually IS Immanuel - God With Us.

So how to communicate that to our 4 year old?  No, actually, you don't have to move Jesus across the room.  But she's not slow enough to think he's physically standing right next to her, albeit invisibly.  I suppose this is why we don't depend upon one lesson, one moment of salvation, one explanation of Christ that forever exists in the mind of our children.  For now, perhaps we'll buy a wedding veil, and throw that over Jesus....

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

My girls.

They're generally pretty cute, and get along well.


Sometimes they retain their cuteness, even when tired.


Other times, the tiredness overpowers the cuteness, although not completely.


Still other times, we milk that cuteness for all it's worth...

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

family prayer..

In a time of prayer yesterday, I was struck once again by how similar my prayers are for my family, my local church family, and the family of God.  Motivated both by a desire to connect with these prayers, and admittedly a desire to create something...I came up with a long list of passages from scripture that captured such prayers.  Obviously, I couldn't use all of them in one fell swoop.  But here are some that made the cut:
Deuteronomy 6:2-4

Zephaniah 3:17

Matthew 22:37-39

Mark 10:15

Luke 14:13

Luke 22:19

2 Corinthians 5:17

1 John 4:16

Revelation 21:5

I began by writing out some of the prayers with finger-painting, and then covered the canvas by hand...with the word "Love" through the image.  While that dried, I wrote out the scriptures, and tried to see what words or phrases would capture them well, to fit on one canvas.  Finally, I attempted to fit those phrases, with my horrible penmanship...onto the painting.

I enjoyed it.  I think I might even hang it somewheres.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Words and Ashes: Prologue

So I have this fiction book I was writing.  Then I stopped, partially due to writers' block, and partially so I could work on a "Parenting" book.  Well, now I've finished the book on parenting (not a "how to"...SOOO not qualified there.  It's more of a "God wants to use parenting to transform you" type book).  Now, I wanted accountability to finish this story that has already begun.  It also fills the need of "I'm wanting to write, but can't think of anything incredibly profound or worth saying at the moment." When I have those moments, I will try to move forward with the book.

In any case, the end result is this.  An entire fictional story, dished out one blog post at a time.  I make no claims to schedule, but if you follow this blog, eventually you'll find the rest of the story.  Much of it is already written.  Kind of...


PROLOGUE: An Event


December 3rd,

Life was everything he could have ever asked for. Adam was at the top of his game at work. He had a great house, beautiful wife, and a son who would probably play professional hockey someday. The drive home from work that day was perfectly normal. That is, it was perfectly normal except for one small issue. He died.
He didn’t choose to die, the way one would choose to eat a cracker. It was more like the way someone chooses to fall when they trip going down the stairs. He realized he was a goner way before it even happened. He saw the guy coming before their vehicles even made contact. He thought to himself, “Anyone who drives a sporty yellow car in the middle of winter probably doesn’t know much about driving in snow.”

He was right.

A loud crash, a flash of pain everywhere in his body, and then, nothing. Not nothing like when you open a closet door you thought your friend was hiding behind only to reveal he’s not in there. But nothing like opening a door and finding the end of the galaxy. All was quiet and still. So what happens now? He felt fine. Well, fine other than the fact that he felt nothing. This was kind of weird.
All of a sudden, something came from the nothing. It was the world he had just left, going on without him. But not without him as if there had never been a him. More like, without him…having just lost him. And for some cosmic reason, he was being allowed to watch it…

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Saint Louified

Last week my family went on a vacation.  It wasn't a holiday, we weren't traveling to meet other family, and it wasn't a trip for work that we called "vacation".  It was a true, me taking a few days off, and us getting a hotel for no other reason than to get away as "The Anderson's".  It was beautiful.

THURSDAY: The girls had swim lessons in Decatur, then we packed up for the Gateway City.  Checking into our hotel (thanks Orbitz!), we took the girls for their promised swim in the hotel pool...on the roof!  Then we changed, and went out for dinner at the Old Spaghetti Factory, and a leisurely stroll through the park around the arch & along the flooded riverbank.  Bedtime around 9:30pm.

FRIDAY: We got up early so we could be at the (free!) zoo by 8am.  Between 8-9am, there is free access to usually admission-costing exhibits.  We were able to pet stingrays and sharks, then head over the children's zoo/play areas/exhibits.  Our kids had a blast!  The weather was hot, but we spaced it out with visits to indoor animals (LOVE the Penguins, of course!), and did quite well.  We took a train ride after lunch, and left still feeling great.

Next we headed over to the (free!) Science Center, where our kids enjoyed a few exhibits for younger kids.  Most of the (free sections of the) museum is for an older age group, but we still enjoyed a solid couple hours there.  We returned to our hotel for another long swim on the roof, soaking up the sun and scenery.  Then it was dinner at the hotel (we had a giftcard!!), and a seemingly early bedtime of 9-ish-pm after an extensive family reading/playtime.  (Bedtime with 3 toddlers in a hotel is always "ish")

SATURDAY: We awoke at a relaxed pace, and headed over to Park Avenue Coffee (LaFayette Square location) to try a few of their 73 flavors of "Oooey Gooey Butter Cake".  It was all that I imagined butter cake could be, and then some.  Our girls loved it, and they had a great outdoor patio area to enjoy.  We walked around a bit near there, enjoying the weather and throwing a few pennies in the fountain.  Then we drove around the city a bit, being rerouted due to a "For the Cure" 5k Walk. 

Next we ended up at Union Station, where our girls loved the "Fudgery", complete with vocal entertainment, crowd interaction, and fresh fudge samples.  We walked around a bit, got flattened souvenir pennies, and mommy got to grab a quick "salad-to-go" from Houlihans before we went back to the hotel.  After a quick lunch of stuff we brought, Sarah laid Ruby down for a nap while I took the older two out exploring the city.  We went under the arch to the museum and old-timed snack shop, and then walked deep into the downtown area to visit Schnucks and be in awe of all the all buildings!!!

We went for a quick swim in a pool that was jumping with people (many celebrating something or something else with a bit of 21-and-older beverages), and decided to go out for dinner.  We wanted to check out President Obama's favorite pizza place, "Pi Pizza", famous for their cornbread crust.  It was, indeed, great pizza, no matter your opinion on the man.  It was even better topped off with some Ted Drewes Frozen Custard!

We ended the day by walking from the hotel down to the "City Garden", where our girls LOVED playing in the colored lights and spraying waters of the fountains!  They played until well past sundown, and we walked back to put our soaking wet kids to bed.

SUNDAY:  We began with a light in-room breakfast purchased from the Arch store on Saturday, sausage and cheese, and crackers...mmm.  We did a short Bible story in honor of the Sabbath, of when Jesus "went on vacation" with his family, and his parents lost track of Him.  Then we changed into our suits, and headed back over to the CityGarden for some more playing in the fountain while the sun was up!  Our kids SERIOUSLY loved these fountains!  And during the day hours, you're allowed to swim IN the actual fountains!  Gotta love that, and we really think Decatur, Illinois NEEDS something similar!

After a quick change, we checked out of the hotel, and went over to a SONIC (mom's favorite) for lunch.  Then it was off to the "Magic House", which is a children's museum on steroids!  We spent the first couple hours in a building apparently for older kids, but found quite a bit our girls loved.  Then we realized an entirely different building meant for kids our girls' age, and began to explore that!!  We definitely could have stayed, alas they closed at 5:30.  So after a TON of exploring, pretending, learning, and playing, we headed out to meet family from the area for a quick dinner at Fazoli's, before our girls passed out on the way home.

Altogether an INCREDIBLE time away with family.  A very good reminder that a vacation with 3 toddlers CAN be done, done well, and done inexpensively!!  And Saint Louis is a great city to take such a trip!!!!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Dispatch 2011

Last week I had the privilege of attending a concert over 10 years in the making.  I was introduced to "Dispatch" back in college by a few close friends I traveled in a band with.  Their incredible music, and faith-infused lyrics caught my attention.  Unfortunately it's also when the band stopped playing together.  They went off to do their own solo stuff.  My attention was drawn to Brad, who went off to form "Braddigan", with songs that touched more deeply into faith elements, and even actively involved his shows with bringing light to places in the world that were dark.  He connected with established ministries and offered hope to people living in the garbage dumps of Nicaragua.

I have to say, the music was incredible, as expected.  But I got a lot more than I'd imagined/expected along with it. 


Mind you, I haven't really attended a large concert that wasn't labeled "Christian" in a long time (Hootie & the Blowfish), unless you count walking past one at Decatur Celebration.  I realize this concert probably isn't what all shows are like, but it reveals quite a bit about how we are wired/created as humans.

Thousands of people, standing shoulder to shoulder, filled to the brim with emotions (or hormones? or drugs/beer?), singing the lyrics loudly...many moving to the rhythms.  Let's just say the entire venue began to smell like burned palm branches, and it was not anywhere near Ash Wednesday.  So how can so many people fill themselves with so much alcohol and weed, and be shouting out introspective lyrics about grand themes like forgiveness, God, Love, Jesus, hope, etc.?

I found a small clue, in one of their most popular songs "Elias".  The very first line, sung in an Eastern Zimbabwe tribal language, says "If I could meet my Jesus I would be very happy with him".  The song goes on, with a great message about community, helping out those in need, and being stronger when they are stronger.  Dispatch has even created ways to help communities in Zimbabwe, because of the story that inspired the song.

But as the woman behind me cried "This is the most high I've ever been!!!", and a few minutes later, through the same tears, "Did you know that guy helps people who live in TRASH!!  I can't believe it!  People live in garbage!!"....I wondered if something may be lost in the translation of God's love for His people.

The lyrics focus on humanity being very happy with Jesus...and with each other...but neglect any mention of what God desires for His creation.   I found myself, in the midst of enjoying great music; burdened to prayer for the crowds that were right on the edge of experiencing a bit of who God is....but deciding only to go as far as it benefits me and mine.

I have no doubt that God is at work, both in those moments and through their music beyond.  But the concert experience reminds me there are other forces who would love to masquerade as a meaningful faith experience...

May we carry the light this week...

Thursday, June 02, 2011

5 years and counting...


I think five years of anything in particular can prompt a bit of a reflection. June 1st of 2006, I was officially hired by Moundford Free Methodist Church in Decatur, IL. Sarah and I had spent over a year in Decatur, waiting on God, believing He had called us here. Not only to be near family, but to be deeply involved in a ministry that held family in high regard.

Spending some time in prayer this morning, the picture above seemed to capture exactly what I wanted to convey. I feel as if the sun has only begun to rise on what God has for us here. It's hard to express just how thankful I am for where we are, and the ministry we're enabled to live out. The relationships we've built, and continue to build on.

Family has definitely been a focus of our life and ministry ever since coming to Moundford. After all, for most of our tenure so far, we've added a child every year or so to our own. We began here with no kids, and now our home contains so much cuteness that we should probably charge admission. It's a tremendous blessing to have a church that acknowledges the sacrifices of having a youth pastor at my stage in life. They could have a younger, "pre-child"-stage youth pastor with unlimited time and resources to give. They could have an older, "grown-child" stage youth pastor, who can pack up the kids or leave them at home and knows how to navigate parenting with professional life. Instead they've been enduring a youth pastor who is still learning how to balance a hugely demanding family role with a job that he never clocks out of.

I like to believe my family is a HUGE part of my life as a minister. It seems my church family agrees. We continue to experience God's "Yes!" to this path of raising a family and ministering among the people of the greater Decatur area.

There's another side to this coin. I'm almost 30, and there's that overly-quoted statistic about the short tenures of most youth pastors. Any youth pastor with a balding spot gets asked, "so when do you think you'll become a senior pastor?" My response, this morning at least, would be something like:

I get to preach often. Sometimes to the whole congregation. I get to lead worship on occasion. I get to teach/discuss/study scripture. I get to visit people in the hospital, and pray with people in their homes. I carry a burden for our church's needs in a way that drives me to prayer as one of their pastors. I also have a special love for the youth, and this stage of life that is so ridiculously fluid and foundational. I get to focus much of my energy/efforts towards calling these young adults and their families to the revelation/transformation of Jesus Christ and His Spirit. I get to help feed the hungry. I get to minister in a city that is marginalized, and actively working to reach out to the marginalized...in a congregation that is increasingly globally-burdened and active. I am in the midst of God freeing captives, bringing redemption, and giving New Life. And that's an abbreviated list.

I think this is a pretty good place to be. And we have only begun...

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

ascenscial words...

I know "ascenscial" is probably not a word. But there is an assumption within the "ascension" that can lead to all sorts of other messes, if we don't sort it out ahead of time.  Of course, it could also simply be interesting speculation...

In Luke 24:51, "While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven."

and in Acts 1:9-10, "When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them."

The word used in the Luke passage for "taken up" does not automatically mean "up" as a direction. Anymore than when my 2 year old "swallows up" her food, does it mean she took it in a direction opposite the floor.

In Acts, we find a similar situation, with Jesus being taken out of their sight as literally "a cloud received him".

These are human attempts to describe something that doesn't occur on a regular basis. Something "science fiction" authors hadn't yet developed easily-grasped modes of describing yet  (if we can consider todays common sci-fi terminology "easily-grasped").

To put it simply, if Jesus went "up" from one spot on the world into "heaven", that means he went "down" from another spot on the world.  We have seen the galaxies and solar systems beyond our own a bit more than they had in the early Church, enough to understand "heaven" is probably not simply "up there somewhere".

It seems more likely, especially with things like Christ entering the locked room after the resurrection, that "paradise" as Christ called it on the cross, is a realm that is not far from our own. The resurrected Christ seems to be physically going in between "paradise" and our world in a way no one else can. Recent science fiction might even refer to it as "another dimension" occupying a space very near to ours.

So what does all of this mean for us?  Why does it matter?

It may not be a big deal.  But it definitely offers to give us hope, as we look forward to a New Heaven and New Earth being married together.  Perhaps someday we will all share in the resurrected existence we see in Christ, crossing back and forth between the two dimensions.  We do not have to believe in a moment where Jesus, like Superman, looks up and thrusts his fist into the air - blasting off from the surface of the earth.

Is it any less fantastic to believe that Jesus is simply "taken into" another dimension?  I suppose not.  But at least I don't feel as silly.  I guess it also makes me feel like God is a bit less removed than some would believe Him to be.

Monday, May 30, 2011

a new badge.

It was one of those experiences that seem to define you as a parent. One of those long, perspiration and prayer filled moments that other seasoned parents watch you go through and smile, saying something like "ahh, NOW you know what parenting involves.". One that you would rather fast-forward through, but at the same time can't help but realize God wants to use this to help you grow.

I was knee-deep in a youth group graduation party, when our Childrens' Pastor came downstairs. "Your wife is taking your daughter to the ER, and you need to go. I don't know what's wrong." It was a blur from there until arriving at the ER before they even got there. Waiting to see what could be wrong. Finally they pulled up, and Sarah handed me Ruby. A faint smile as she recognized me, and no blood. But it was around 7pm, and this one year old that usually bounced off the walls was laying heavily across my arms.

She continued to lay, on the edge of consciousness, as Doctors examined her. Poking and prodding, listening and asking questions, she disregarded them as if a gentle breeze. The list of tests was seemingly endless. Urine samples (who knew a little girl could pee on the nurse that far away?), cotton swabs, blood samples, CT Scan, Spinal Tap, and an EEG. The first tears rolled as they began the IV. Her bottom lip pouted out as if to catch every tear that traced her cheeks. In the midst of her cries, she looked up at me as if to ask "Why are you letting them do this?" As drops of blood stained the sheet beneath her, I asked myself the same thing. Her temperature had spiked to near 103 since arriving. I kissed her sweat-covered forehead with all the love I could convey, whispering it would be alright.

As every test came back healthy, we were glad she was fine in that regard, but confusion continued to mount. What was this?

Over the next couple days, she returned to us. Her temperature stayed down for longer periods. She grew restless, wanting to be held at first, and then wanting to walk a bit. We were stored neatly in a closet used as a room for infants in the pediatric hall. It was no small miracle that the tube emerging from her arm held to the tape that seemed just as painful as the needle itself. My wife volunteered (read "required") herself to stay with Ruby each night, sacrificing comfort to provide loving presence. Time passed with prayers, walks down a short hallway, and visits with love. It's hard to imagine someone enduring this in the midst of tornado damage, as some have done recently in other areas. We remain thankful for all we have.

About 3 days later, they'd tested everything possible. Still no idea. They determined it had been a virus of some sort, and that she had sufficiently fought it off. We could go home. A quick lunch, and then we laid all 3 girls down for the first "family nap time" in quite a while.

Waking slowly, we noticed our 2nd born had grown a fever during her nap. At least this time, we could skip the hospital involvement...

Monday, May 23, 2011

stones and flags

1 Peter 2:4-5 "As you come to him, the living Stone--rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him-- you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ."

We are told that Jesus is "THE living Stone". Peter continues to tell us that we, "like" living stones, are being built into a "spiritual house". This comes as an important reminder in a world of flag-like faith.

I believe we generally approach faith, and our lives, as if we were flags for the Kingdom. We will wave, often vigorously, advertising the Kingdom. Declaring it's existence. We will even allow ourselves to become so large, decorated, and adorned with all sorts of extra stitching, under the guise of becoming attractive to those looking for the flag. Parents, and grandparents will even invite the next generations to wave their flag along-side of us. But this analogy was never offered to us in scripture. Instead, we are given the connection of "stones", and not just any stones you find on the side of the road - but stones for BUILDING upon.

What if we truly lived as those who desire to be built upon? If life was less about what I can advertise and wave to those around me and those generations to come - and more about what foundations I can help lay for those who will be built upon me?

It's easy to become a flag. It's enjoyable. We can enjoy moment after moment of waving. Enjoying the pleasures of life as God's gifts, without much thought for what comes next. But to be a stone that will be built upon - this requires sacrifice and obedience. Words we tend to shy away from.

Maybe you have the ability to be a spiritual stone for others. Maybe an economic stone. Emotional stone. Relational stone. Creative stone. Maybe some sort of blend of gifts and abilities to offer the building WE are becoming (not only "we" pointing around the room, but "we" as in all who have come before, and those generations to come).

As we offer ourselves to others, recognizing Christ as the ultimate "cornerstone" (v.6), and giving our lives to the building...we are becoming the temple where God chooses to dwell. We carry His presence into a world parched and dry for this Living Water. We invite our grandparents. We actively lead our grandchildren. We join together...not in waving, but in becoming what those after us will need to continue building God's dwelling place...

Friday, May 20, 2011

the what of the when...

Lately there has been a lot of focus on the "when" of God bringing His work to completion.  Thanks to a small group of people (many of which who seem to be trying to follow Jesus) tomorrow has been advertised as a possible "beginning of the end".  It hasn't received much credit in actual "Christian" realms, but atheist and other non-faith-oriented places have held it high as an example of the ludicrous ability of God-followers to believe in  hooey.

So what do these believers declare will happen tomorrow?  It seems to be "The Rapture".  The basic belief that God's desire is to remove the "souls" of all who love Him to another place (usually this place is thought of as floating somewhere in the sky, and contains a lifestyle of golden streets and jeweled castles).  From their website, "He will close the door to salvation on May 21, 2011 when He returns to take his elect children to heaven "

There are enough websites, youtube videos, and other scriptural explanations out there dispelling the May 21st deadline.  But the entire topic hitting the media as it has, makes us think about how important the "what" of this "when" can be.

I recognize that there are people I love who believe God intends to do something similar to the "rapture" linked above.  There are a few who hold this belief, and seem to still be actively working out the Kingdom on Earth, and inviting others to do the same.  But even more popular are those who have gotten their rapture passport stamped, are waiting for the big trip...and maybe inviting a friend or two to get their passport stamped also.

I do believe God will move again to finish what He began at the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  The Bible points us to God bringing together Heaven and Earth in a marriage that makes both completely new, joined by a New Jerusalem.  A very physical existence in the full presence of God, someplace a lot more like "here" than a distant floating "somewhere up there".  This will be mysteriously connected to the Kingdom work we are involved in even today.  This isn't simply about "getting more people on the rescue boat while the world continues to sink".  This is about a Love for God's creation (including humanity) that lives and acts out His Love and desire to bring about healing, righteousness and redemption.  That includes living a life as revealed in Christ, not because "obedience = trip to heaven", but because living this way is how God will be revealed and move in a world already begun to be made new. 

He will come to complete the works begun in Christ and the Church.  But until then, we know He has given us His Spirit for a purpose that is much larger than "saving souls from hell after death".  We are involved in freeing captives, sharing love, sacrificing, healing, creating beauty, caring for creation, bringing justice, etc., and declaring Jesus as Lord with our lives, in a creation that is heading that direction.

That purpose has begun, and will not end.  May we join in the work of Christ in such a way that the day of His complete revealing will come as the natural celebration of what our lives are already directed toward...and not like a ship coming that we hope our tickets are good for.

(wait, that almost sounds like there's a purpose to "Church" beyond a motivating message and emotional worship each week...:)

See you there...

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

unhealthy church.

Recently the "Harpers Index" included a statistic that more than caught my attention:

"Percentage by which young adults with high religious participation are more likely than their peers to become obese:  50 "

Yowsers.  As someone in ministry to youth and young adults, I have to take some ownership of this statistic (full source here)...and call many of my readers to as well.  Young people who are regularly involved in our churches are 50% more likely to become obese.

It's not the first time we've heard this.  Anyone who's been in ministry to young people have heard the argument in regards to a young person justifying alcohol consumption or tobacco use:  "But over-eating can be unhealthy too!"  In fact, all the way back to the 4th  Century, God's followers have acknowledged "Gluttony" as one of the primary origins of other sins. 

But how do we approach "gluttony" in a culture that is gluttonous in itself?

One step at a time, for sure.  It's not about "redesigning" everything we do as a church.  It's not about canceling potlucks, pizza parties, and locking up the toddler snack cabinets (though we may change what's in them).  Much of it could be changed from the very foundations by churches taking a more holistic approach to ministry.  Many churches are starting garden co-ops, and educating families on improving nutritional intake/activity levels (yay Kara!).  Here's a quick "high five" to our own Parish Nurse also, who regularly talks/educates on making healthy choices as important to our faith.

As youth pastors, how about throwing out that unlimited fountain soda machine, and getting a machine that you can put your own, stocked, limited supply that includes healthy choices?  What if we made sandwiches instead of ordering pizza every time? (wow, that hurt to type)

I don't like vegetables...or exercise a whole lot beyond dancing with my girls and running from teens in dodge ball.  I've probably actually gathered an invisible list of adjectives unfitting for a man who is thankful for the body God has given.  I'm not jumping on the "all natural, etc." bandwagon, and I'm not too worried about how much corn syrup I take in....but I'm saying there's gotta be somewhere healthier than living comfortably with the above statistic.

It may even be connected to our churches actually being a healthier Church.  Pun intended.

Monday, May 16, 2011

morning without her.

I awoke as the natural alarm clock within me suggested, without offering a chance to press the snooze button.  It was 5:15am, and the mental post-it note from the night before reminded me I'd not yet taken the garbage to the fence.  I was still unsure what time the morning men came and gathered refuse, but I did not want to find out after it was too late.  I quickly came to find myself with shorts and flip flops on, crossing the dewy grass toting a giant wheeled garbage can over a yard in need of mowing.  Wiping my feet on the kitchen carpet, I patted myself on the back for a responsible use of morning, and paused to decide my next course of action.

Should I wake her?

I decided to make some coffee, and she continued to slumber.  In our old house, the kids would have heard dad walking just outside their door, but here I had the privilege of tip-toeing around the first floor while they completed their sleep cycles in peace.  A few roads waited passively ahead of me:  I could enjoy a bit of uninterrupted reading, wake her up, or begin to prepare for the day; among other things.  I chose to wait until just enough coffee was in the pot, to  pour myself a tall hot mug of focus (You have to love a coffeemaker that will continue to brew patiently until you return the pot.) and find my book.

I was reminded briefly of important things I needed to get with her about today.   But they could wait.

I've been reading a book on hiking the Appalachian Trail.  This morning contained incredible views of nature, combined with interesting stories of locations off the beaten-path, but well worth a brochure - if not a movie.  Then it happened - I heard the patter of feet above me.  I listened as they quietly traveled the distance of the 2nd floor, down the stairs, and out into my area of the house.  Thumb still in her mouth, our 2nd born smiled and mumbled an excited whisper, "daddy!" as she climbed into my lap.

I was thankful I'd chosen not to wake her still.  Mornings with my daughters are much better without her.  We cuddled, and Sophie willingly recorded a new ring-tone for daddy, before her sister joined us in the moment.  It wasn't long before they returned upstairs to find something interesting from the previous night.  Again, I chose not to wake her.  Not just yet.

I went upstairs to find our 1 year old in need of changing, and sucking on a Ring-Pop her sisters had given her a moment before.  Apparently they felt sorry she couldn't yet hoist herself from her sleeping prison, and knew a sucker would quiet her from interrupting their morning play.

Oh, the things I would've missed if I'd woken her earlier.  Sure, there were enough compelling reasons to wake her.  Important things.  Unimportant things.   We hadn't seen much of each other the day before, and no doubt she had plenty of updates for me.

But as my three girls and I climbed back into our giant, queen sized bed with mommy to talk about the day ahead, and laugh a bit together....I was thankful I'd not turned on the computer yet that morning.

Of course, I had to use her eventually....or I wouldn't have been able to tell the story of my morning without her. :)

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Why faith?

Recently I posted a few thoughts regarding "telos", a word with a rich background in the search for purpose/meaning of what we're doing here on this planet and life.  The "purpose/outcome/result/goal" word has come up once again in this past week's Scripture, 1Peter 1:3-9.

This time, it is not the "end/result" of a specific path over against another.  Verse 9 highlights the "telos" of our faith.  This is a pretty important declaration, for several reasons.  It's can also be a humbling/uncomfortable verse for us to read openly.

If we look at churches in Western Christianity, and asked "What is the perceived Goal of our faith?", we would probably get some answers that make us shift in our seats.  Influence, power, financial well-being, name recognition, growth in numbers, self-preservation, and oh yes...saving us from hell, and tickets to heaven.

But I didn't intend to critique the Bride of Christ here, plenty of other sources/books out there currently can do that.  Much of it is needed and helpful, as long as we are being pointed in a healthy/new direction.  I think the only "goal" in the above list that we may hear embraced out loud would be the goal of "going to Heaven someday" as the purpose of our faith.

Verse 9 declares "..you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls."  It does not say "You will receive...", or even "You have received...".  So what is being spoken of here?  This entire chapter seems wrapped up in a few messages to encourage those believers being persecuted in Asia Minor:

1. God has some great and eternal things in store for us. (salvation)
2. Through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, we share in a taste of those things even now. (salvation)
3. Sharing in these things now is not automatic/passive, but requires faith and obedience, resourced/enabled by the Spirit of Christ that we have received. (salvation)

On the path to a wedding, there are many celebrations that occur.  Wedding showers are awesome, and any young couple that has traveled the aisles at Target with a laser gun knows how much fun it can be.  But no matter how many showers you have, or how incredible the gifts you receive at them are, a wedding shower is nothing compared to a wedding reception.

We are the bride of Christ.  We believe someday there will be a coming together of heaven and earth like never before.  The celebration that will take place, and "inheritance" we will receive is indescribable.  But while we wait, we have weekly "wedding showers".  We journey toward that wedding day, reflecting two who desire to become one.

We are freed from the confines, powers and bindings of a selfish lover.  The world that whispers how great things can be, and makes promises of wealth, security, happiness, and power...even when these things occur, they are found to be empty.  We are receiving the goal of our faith - the salvation of our souls.  The tastes of our ultimate inheritance.

The question is...do you wait for the wedding day to realize all of the shower gifts you could've opened?  Will we live as someone who is receiving the salvation of our souls even today?

Friday, April 29, 2011

fairytale marriages

I hope the best for the new royal couple, for sure.  I whispered a quick prayer that this ceremony is not something they view as an "arrival", but rather a beginning.  (I think that was actually in the message from Diana's wedding.)  But looking through the transcripts of what was to be said, I realize how "traditional" the ceremony seemed.  The name "Jesus" spoken many times, and credit given to God as creator, asking God to bless their marriage, and that they would live "through Jesus", etc.  I suppose the main "non-traditional" element echoes the last royal wedding, in Princess Kate not wanting to promise to "obey" the Prince.  All the religious talk is a bit surprising for a European "trendy wedding", unless you consider the throne is also the head of the Church of England.

But what we see in the royal couple is, unfortunately, a microcosm (10 points if you can use that word this week) of what weddings and marriages often become these days.  As seen in a quick confirmation of Kate last month, and the fact that neither she nor her parent were actively involved in a church previously, it seems the role as head of the Church of England may hopefully be the catalyst that moves this marriage toward a foundation in Christ.

It seems like many of our weddings (and marriage relationships, for us already-weds) are a fancy/fairytale way of making the statement: "God, please bless this thing we've been doing, and we're going to do with or without you."  Instead of saying:  "God, please show up and move, because we cannot make two become one without you."

Prince William and Princess Kate had been living together since mid-2010.  Minus the obligational references to God, this ceremony seems to simply be the beginning of their official economic and royal partnership.  Many of us, similarly, go days, weeks, and sometimes longer in our marriage relationships without acknowledging the need for Jesus to be regularly present if this thing is going to be more than just two people making a family together.

It's no mistake that the relationship between husband and wife connects so deeply with the picture of Christ and the Church.  God desires to reveal Himself to and through us.  But just as the Church without the Holy Spirit can easily become simply an optimistic Jesus-club...a marriage without an active foundation in Christ can easily become two people who live together.

And so, as we high-five our friends across the seas and talk about how beautiful the ceremony was....we are at the same time challenged to invite Christ to be actively involved in our courtships, engagements, weddings, and marriages.  May His presence bring transformation and new life in ways we could never accomplish on our own...

Monday, April 25, 2011

how do you look?

This past week for Easter, we heard from John chapter 20. Mary has returned to find the tomb empty. She brings Peter and John back with her, and they leave after seeing what she has described. She remains, weeping.

She sees two angels, who ask her why she is weeping. She tells them, she doesn't know where "they" have taken the body of her Lord. As she continues to weep, Jesus enters the scene, and asks her why she weeps.

The scripture tells us she "turns" and sees Jesus, but doesn't realize it's him. She gives the same response as with the angels. We can imagine, knowing how someone sobbing with tears would respond to a curious onlooker behind her. A casual glance of acknowledgement, and she continues to weep. After all, what solace could this person offer?

But everything changes, when Jesus speaks her name. "Mary." No doubt spoken gently. Spoken in a way that communicates things like "I'm right here." in a loving, joy-filled, and gently spoken way. A way Jesus has spoken to her before, and called her by name. Immediately as her name is spoken, she knows this is no gardener. No random cemetery caretaker. No traveler wandering through. This is Jesus. Rabbi. Lord.

How often do we give Jesus the precursory "glance" over the shoulder? Assuming He can offer nothing to our current situation. Assuming this "Christianity", "Church", "Bible", "Worship", or whatever is just another thing going on in the background of a life that really matters. A life where genuine existence is painful. Where we experience loss. Mourning. Grief. Frustration. A world that too often, we don't actually bring before God expecting anything other than what we'd hope for from the gardener.  Glancing at Jesus from the corner of our eyes, while we remain fixed on whatever pain, challenge, or even blessing and joy we've found ourselves in the midst of.

But to us, this week and beyond, Jesus remains present. Not silent. He calls out our name, waiting for us to turn completely to him, realizing just who this is beside us.  For us to recognize and look to Him as Lord, Teacher, Savior, and receive all that the resurrection offers us and our world.

It seems to ask us the question - how are we looking at Jesus?   It could radically transform what happens next...

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Would you read this? (Pass it on)

Trying to collect a few comments, or a few thousand, to twist the arm of a publisher to take notice of a book worth putting out there. Spread it to your friends like a toddler spreads snot.....:)

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

paradise.

Luke 23:43 "Jesus answered him, "I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise."

In our Good Friday service later this week, different people have been asked to give a 3 or 4 minute thought on the 7 last words of Jesus Christ.  The verse here is what I've been asked to speak on.  I'd love to do a fuller fleshing out of so much that is packed in here, but for time/worship purposes, will probably end up reading a poem-thing I'm writing from it.

I've posted on the topic before, mainly copying from an interview where NT Wright spoke on the difference between "heaven" as we think of it, and where we believe God is ultimately taking/directing all things toward.  As seen in the above verse, we do not believe that "paradise" is the final resting place for either Jesus or the man hanging on the cross next to him. 

1 Thessalonians 4:16 reminds us that "the dead in Christ will rise", which means even those who have already passed from life as we know it, await further happenings.  But the verse mentioned from Luke assures us they are not simply stored away somewhere, frozen in time.  We believe, and scriptures point to an existence for those who have passed away, that is fully present with Christ, described as "paradise", and yet still waiting for God to complete His work fully.  That is, the work of bringing a New Heaven and a New Earth together, married in a way that all things have become new.  Those who have died, and those living, will receive new "resurrection" bodies (similar to the existence we see in the resurrected Christ).

So what is it like in paradise?

The word used here, denotes a place of rest and refreshing.  A garden-like place.  But we read this verse from a different vantage point than the man hanging next to Christ.  He knew what "paradise" meant, but may not have known who Jesus was.  We lack a first-hand knowledge of what Jesus means by "paradise", but we know who Jesus is.  It is enough for us, to know what where we rest between death and resurrection, is in the full presence of Jesus Christ.  Whether we play hockey and drink coffee, tend a garden, or float around in orbs of light - obviously I have opinions and preferences....but I'm not too worried...

It's kinda neat to know that whatever he's up to....great great great grandpa and I are both anxiously awaiting the full arrival of God's complete renewal of all things. (great great great grandma too, for that matter)

Monday, April 18, 2011

moved.

Rewind the clock about 7 months.  We've got a flat tire, and I'm looking around at options to see how much it'd cost to simply make the van "drivable".  In the midst of this, my wife calls me to say a house she really loved has come down in price recently, and she wants to know if we could go look at it together.  I will pause here to tell you - looking at houses is definitely NOT a hobby of mine.  But I love my wife.  She bears with me during playoff season, and I walk through a house once in a great while.  I mustered up as much cynical love as possible to say, "Sure hun, let's find out how much we owe to get new tires, and if it's not too depressing, we'll go walk through a house with no expectations." :)  I figured I was off the hook. 

Through the kindness of a church friend, we had 2 used but good condition tires installed free of charge.  His actual words - "Go take your family out for lunch."  Yes sir.  But little did he know the wheels he was used to set in motion.

We looked at the house.  I'll admit, it was pretty sweet.  Almost twice as much room.  A dining room.  Sidewalks for the girls.  Neighbors that were extra neighborly.  Closets as big as small rooms.  A fireplace.  But to try and sell our house in this market?   To try and increase our mortgage even slightly on our fixed one-income budget?  Again, with cynicism, I agreed we would put our house on the market, and see if this house might be work-out-able. 

Time passed.  Our contingency offer expired, and they wouldn't sign a second one.  Someone else made an offer and they accepted.  They were working toward closing.

That closing never happened, and the house was back on the market.  Sarah was leaving for the Philippines.  Maybe when she got back to the States, we'd figure out some way to put fliers up around town, you know, really ramp up our sales techniques.  But while she was gone, someone wanted to walk through.  Decided we may as well show even though it's probably another "no thanks".  Then an offer came. 

Picture taken in early Fall 2010
We began working it all out on paper, and honestly didn't know exactly where the dust would settle.  But here we are, paying $10 less each month for our mortgage, for soooo much more house.  (Interest rates CAN be your friend.)  Still a lot of unpacking to do.  Still quite a few things on our lists to make it "home".  Definitely some projects around the house.  But we still can't believe how it has all come together. 

I hear stories like this, and people say "But we prayed, and then..."  I will not claim to bend the heart of God that He should act in our favor.  But I also cannot deny that we gave every step of this, including our financial frustrations from the very beginning, in His hands.  If anything, maybe he's a bit taken by our kids.  They are pretty stinkin' cute.  Thanks God. 

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

the end is not the end.

This past week we heard from Romans 6:15-23, and Pastor brought a message focused on "Living in all that God has for us: Holiness". It was a great reminder that there are basically two paths ahead of us:

1. Living for ourselves (either selfishly (which includes the "who cares/whatever" realm), or even un-selfish humanism), which allows us to be free from "righteousness", but also leads ultimately to death. Obviously, whether due to selfish desires being unbalanced, or due to human efforts ultimately only being able to accomplish a limited amount. 

2. Living obediently in Christ. This leads to righteousness (things being put right, and happening the way God designed), which leads to holiness (being set apart for God's use/purposes). Obviously we cannot expect for "all things" to be put right in our own time/effort, but as Christians we live toward the expectation that we join God in what He is actively doing and will bring to completion.

Ancient Greek philosophy isn't too far removed from what goes on in many hearts and minds today. The word "telos" means "goal, purpose, result/outcome". Many of ancient times, through today are giving thought to the goal, purpose, or intended result of our actions and lives.

So what is the "telos" of choice number one here?  Death (Rom. 6:21).  Not something simple, like being dead.  Not the time-bound activity of dying.  But death itself.  Misery, brokenness, and separation from God.  We mourn that many will actually choose this, either out of selfish desire for pleasure, or a chosen desire to deny any need for the existence of God as loving "other".

What of the "telos" for choice number two?  Eternal Life.  (Rom. 6:22).  Not something simple, like life that becomes invincible.  Not the time-bound activity of living forever from now on.  But life itself.  Stretching in more dimensions than linear time, and more powerful simply by definition than any walls or boundaries.  We not only hope toward this, but are already being transformed by this life that is breaking through our world today. 

So how does that impact our lives today?

We make decisions on a daily basis, both for what we will be about, and for what our families will be about.  May we make choices obedient to the Truths revealed in the Word and the Living Word of Jesus Christ.  It may not always be received well to a world built on choosing "death"...in fact, it may very well lead to our death (both literal and symbolic).  But even if it ends in such a death, we believe in the promise that we share in the Resurrected Life of Jesus Christ (Romans 6:23).

May our end be His end in the end...:)