Sunday, November 1, 2009

Pondering November

The first day of November marks the start of NaBloPoMo, when I am challenged to post a blog writing every day for a month. I wonder if I really have that much to write.

Then I remember back to fall 2003. It was then that I resigned from teaching and entered full time ministry. It was a big shift, not just in my schedule or duties, but also in how I thought. It was a significant challenge to step away from what was comfortable and known, and to pursue the unknown. Reading my journal entries from that first month reminds me how much I grew through that time of change.

This is another such time. While I am sure there will be many challenges, I am already excited for when I can look back and see the results God is already bringing about in the process.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Space in Between, Part VIII

Space is not always geographic. Sometimes it is temporal.

I preached a few Sundays back on the subject of waiting. It's something I discovered four years ago while leading kids' quizzing on Exodus, and have seen so many more times in my current walk through the Bible.

Before the Israelites crossed the sea on dry ground, they waited all night for the waters to be pushed back. Before Abraham tied up his son for a sacrifice, they walked three days through the desert together. Before God's people returned to their land after the Exile, they relocated and rebuilt their lives in foreign lands. Before Jesus began his ministry on earth, he spent thirty years growing up like many other Jewish boys. And before Jesus rose from the dead, his followers grieved deeply for three days.

What we do while waiting shapes who we become. And who we become while waiting is arguably more important than what we wait for.

I'm still thinking about these spaces in between here and there.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Blue Hope

Autumn is walking us toward winter these days. Night hangs on a little longer and lets go a little more stubbornly with each passing day. It seems a little harder to shake off sleep in the morning and to rejoin the Land of the Conscious.

The sky was deeply gray as I left home last week. Rain fell steadily. The thunder which accompanied it was more grumbly than powerful, and even the lightning seemed weak. It was one of those mornings.

Then, about halfway through the trip, I noticed a small hint of a blue hue in the distance. By the time I reached Bountiful, that small hole in the clouds had grown enough for a stream of sunlight to shine through.

Life is dreary sometimes. But even when the sun seems to disappear for a time, it is never gone.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009


I am constantly amazed that youth camp works. Hundreds of junior high students gather for one week, divided into cabin groups of around 10-12 campers led by 1-2 volunteer staff. These groups, often formed by combining people who do not know each other, coordinate within and beyond themselves to establish living spaces, meals, shower times, and so forth while also playing, learning, worshiping, and talking together.

It takes extra planning, extra patience, extra kindness. This alone is a great reason to come.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

More Space in Between

In The Sun Also Rises (Hemingway), someone asks Campbell how he went bankrupt. His reply? "Gradually, then suddenly." It is a classic and well-known line, brilliantly packaging a key insight into humanity.

How did your marriage fall apart? Gradually, then suddenly.
How did you wind up having an affair? Gradually, then suddenly.
How did your business come to ruin? Gradually, then suddenly.
How did you return to a known addiction? Gradually, then suddenly.
How did your children grow up without you noticing? Gradually, then suddenly.

Jon Acuff paints a picture of the "gradually" part in this post. Check it out, and read the comments.

I found it challenging, and would love to hear your thoughts.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Nobody Flies for Nothing

"How was your trip?" Sadly, I often interpet this question in light of snafus and annoyances - troublesome weather, lost luggage, late arrivals, missed flights, and so forth, and if there wasn't much of this, the trip was "fine." But perhaps a better, more important, more active question is this: "Who did you encounter along the way?" This is one of those things I am (slowly) learning from Mom - to really look around and see the many people with whom I am sharing these in-between moments in life.

"Nobody flies for nothing." That's what she told me after she and Dad spent many hours stuck in an airport far from home after severe weather disrupted air travel all across the country. There were a lot of tired people, with the frustration, irritability, and discouragement which often accompanies such times. Mom was not oblivious to the problem, but also was not oblivious to the opportunity. The airport particularly needed a loving spirit that day, and she had one to offer. She reached out, made friendly conversation, invested herself in their lives even if only for a short time. She gave the people around her opportunity to share some of their stories, particularly about where they were from and where they were going. People often fly for weddings, funerals, honeymoons, adoptions, family times. And nobody flies for nothing.

The crowds have begun to arrive for the 27th General Conventions and Assembly of the Global Church of the Nazarene. By Sunday, there will be tens of thousands gathering from around the world to worship, learn, reconnect, and take care of business. I want to see this opportunity through Mom's eyes of loving curiosity, and I wonder who I will encounter along the way.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Cartoon Murder

I learned many Bible stories as a child. These were often accompanied by kid-friendly pictures to look at and pictures to color. Those drawings helped us remember the stories, of course. But they also became my mental images.

The first two chapters of Exodus briefly describe how the Israelites' status among the Egyptians shifted from favored foreigners to oppressed slaves, and how Moses - an Israelite - grew up with favored status even while his people were in slavery. But that changed, too, when Moses killed an Egyptian and fled for his life.

The kid-friendly images in my mind don't show slavery very well. They break down completely when it comes to murder. "[Moses] saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his own people. Glancing this way and that and seeing no one, he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand" (Exodus 2:11-12) It's like interrupting my mental show on the Cartoon Network with a gruesome scene from CSI.

It is good to see this, because I (and you) resemble this very human, clearly fallen person more clearly than the two-dimensional character I seemed to see in childhood stories. The complex character of Moses is one I can relate to.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Prayer and Common Sense

More from Oswald Chambers:

"Jesus never mentioned unanswered prayer; He had the boundless certainty that prayer is always answered.... God answers prayer in the best way, not sometimes, but every time, although the immediate manifestation of the answer in the domain in which we want it may not always follow. Do we expect God to answer prayer?
The danger with us is that we want to water down the things that Jesus says and make them mean something in accordance with common sense; if it were only common sense, it was not worthwhile for Him to say it. The things Jesus says about prayer are supernatural revelations."

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Joyful Abandon

"Do not worry
about your life, what you will eat or drink;
or about your body, what you will wear.
Is not life more important than food, and
the body more important than clothes?"
(Matthew 6:25)

A mostly-paraphrased section from Oswald Chambers:

What we call "common sense," Jesus may call unfaithfulness. The Holy Spirit nudges as we go through life -- Where does God fit into this relationship? Into this holiday plan? Into these other details? -- and he does this persistently until He becomes our first consideration. Until we reach that point, there is confusion.

"Do not worry..." Basic provision isn't your problem to worry about. In fact, to take on such worries shows that you don't trust God to take care of the practical details of your life. Do you remember what Jesus said would choke the word he puts in? Not the devil, but the cares of this world, the little worries. [See Matthew 13.] Faithlessness begins by deciding I will not trust where I cannot see, and the only cure is obedience to the Spirit.

Jesus invites us into a life of joyful abandonment.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

For This Reason

"For this reason... I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers" (Ephesians 1:15-16). For what reason? The verses prior paint a wonderful picture: "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ... chose us... to be adopted... glorious grace, which he has freely given us... in accordance with the richness of God's grace that he lavished on us.... And you also were included..." That whole section is a powerful proclamation of God's love and grace in the lives of all who choose to follow Him. It is indeed reason to celebrate.

And what is Paul's prayer? "I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe." We are called, first and foremost, to relationship with God. We are invited to know God.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Why Do You Do This?

Acts 1:1-8 contains an incredibly speedy review -- Jesus came, taught, died, resurrected, and taught some more -- which sets the scene for the next three verses. He promised again the coming of the Holy Spirit, who would empower the disciples to tackle their God-given mission. Then "he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight."

"They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going..." Makes sense, doesn't it? This Jesus, their Savior and Teacher and Lord, was not just leaving, but leaving in a pretty spectacular manner. I wonder how long the disciples would have stood there watching if not interrupted by the "two men dressed in white" who prompted them with this question: "Men of Galilee, why do you stand here looking into the sky?"

It reminds me of the question asked of the women by two similar figures at Jesus' empty tomb: "Why do you look for the living among the dead?" (Luke 24:5), and it reminds me that God does not meet my expectations of how the world works.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Everything Changed

Jesus spent three years in ministry on earth, and it changed everything in the lives of those who followed him. He healed sick people, liberated spiritually oppressed people, welcomed rejected people, taught seeking people, challenged wrong people, and loved all people. His disciples would never be the same after encountering the Messiah...

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Getting Ready

The worship team gathers for about an hour on Sunday mornings to finalize preparations for worship. They rehearse the music, clarify the order of service, adjust the sound system. Like the Levites of the Old Testament, they do not just sing; they lead the way into the presence of God.

They are getting ready right now. I have joined them occasionally over the years, and know more or less what they're probaly doing. Dave makes sure things are ready for the team, Phil adjusts the sound system, Deanna and Jen set up the computer. Then, before anything else, they come together for prayer. It is a significant time in the life of this group, and therefore in the life of our church.

I am thankful for this group of committed people who do not take themselves too seriously, but do not take worship lightly. I look forward to joining them soon for a great morning focused on our great God.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Fear and Courage

Gideon was hiding in a winepress, trying to thresh his wheat without being noticed by the enemy troops, when he was called by God to lead His people into war. He gathered 32,000 men to fight, though this was still a small force compared to the many swordsmen of the Midianites. That's when God told Gideon that the already-outnumbered Israelite army was still too big, so he told "anyone who trembles with fear" to go home, and 2 out of every 3 men left. Even then God judged the army was too large and sorted them again, leaving only three hundred remaining.

And how did they prepare themselves? Following God's instructions, Gideon mustered his little army during the night's middle watch and issued each person a trumpet, a big empty jar, and a torch. He divided them into three groups and directed them to places around the enemy camp. And so they went -- in the dark, in the presence of their enemies, thinly spread, greatly outnumbered and poorly armed.

Those three hundred men were to follow the lead of Gideon, the one who had just recently been called out of hiding and into war. On his signal, each person in that tiny little army was to blow his trumpet, smash a jar, yell, and hold up a bright torch. Can you imagine a more foolhardy battle plan? There was no way, based on human understanding, they could possibly survive this encounter. Yet those three hundred men followed, trusting God's direction. Such courage!

I don't think those men entered that battle situation without fear, but their fear was tempered by trust in God and by their recognition that something else -- obedience to God -- trumped fear. That is the kind of courage I want to cultivate in my life, and to help others cultivate as well.

There are plenty of God-given commands which would fit here, but the one that comes to mind today is we are to take the initiative to restore right relationship after offending -- or being offended by -- another person. Too often fear keeps us from taking that step. What if they won't forgive me? What if they won't acknowledge they've done something wrong? What if they say something bad about me to another person?

Those fears are often very real, but still quite irrelevant. Our fears need to be tempered by trust in God, and by recognition that something else -- obedience to God -- trumps fear.

(This story of Gideon is found in Judges 6-7.)

Monday, April 13, 2009

Protected by Time

Time is a gift.

It doesn't always seem that way. When there is so much going on, so much busyness, it seems like a barrier. "If only I had more time..." I feel stuck in time, limited by it. But time is a moment-by-moment reminder that I don't need to do everything, that I am not created to do everything. It prompts me to discover what is most important and to prioritize. This is a lifelong process, and it is a spiritual discipline.

The confines of time seem to bind sometimes, but this is the platform from which we can begin to see clearly.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Preparation in Prayer

In the Christian tradition, the weeks (approximately 40 days, but that's another discussion) between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday are known as the Season of Lent. It is a time particularly devoted to prayer, confession, self-denial and service, a time to prepare our souls for intense and personal remembrance of Jesus' death and resurrection.

While speaking recently with Jason M, he shared some from his journey through Lent. With his permission, I'd like to share it also with you:

Before Nehemiah rebuilt Jerusalem, he prayed, and his was a prayer of repentance. During this Lent season, let this passage fill you, for God is at work in Salt Lake City, and he is building His church. However, we should approach this in humbleness and not in pride, and what better way to humble ourselves than to repent and expose our authentic hearts to His awesome presence like Nehemiah did:

"Then I said: 'O Lord, God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps his commandment of love with those who love him and obey his commands, let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer your servant is praying before you day and night for your servants, the people of Israel. I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my Father's house, have committed against you. We have acted very wickedly toward you. We have not obeyed the commands, decrees and laws you gave your servant Moses.
Remember the instruction you gave your servant Moses, saying "If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations, but if you return to me and obey my commands, then even if you exiled people are at the farthest horizon, I will gather them from there and bring them to a place I have chosen as a dwelling for my Name."
They are your servants and your people, whom you redeemed by your great strength and your mighty hand. O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of this your servant and to the prayer of your servants who delight in revering your name. Give your servant success today by granting him favor in the presence of this man.'
I was cupbearer to the king."
-- Nehemiah 1:5-11

How are you preparing your soul?

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Mighty Warrior

"The Lord is with you, mighty warrior."

These words were on my mind as I entered the hospital to visit a friend today. He does not look like our culture's perception of mightiness; he is quite weak, and cannot currently speak. Even a task like raising his arms is often too much. But God is with him, and I saw a mighty warrior.

"The Lord is with you, mighty warrior." Judges 6 introduces a man named Gideon as he threshes wheat in a winepress due to the country being pretty much overrun by their enemies. Gideon was hiding fearfully; he didn't look much like the mighty warrior he was called to be by the angel of the Lord. But "mighty warrior" was not about physical strength or courageous feelings; it spoke of a much deeper, soul-level identity. God saw what we could not.

My friend today communicated with me the best he could. These are very difficult times, but his trust in God gives him courage and strength. A battle is being fought there, and I am so grateful to know that the Lord is with this mighty warrior every step of the way.

Sunday, March 15, 2009


I had a plastic penny bank when I was a kid. It was perhaps ten inches tall, shaped like a little girl, very durable. That is where my penny collection started. It was just for pennies; other coins were kept somewhere more useful, more accessible. I didn't keep other coins long-term.

The penny bank was full before I entered junior high. The stash was eventually transferred into a bigger plastic bank shaped like a Coca-Cola bottle, and more recently into a sturdy bucket which started as a container for dog biscuits. I've had some of these pennies for thirty years.

Consider a penny - a small, lightweight little thing. Hardly noticeable at all. But they add up.

My penny collection is measured now in weight, not pieces. It has reached thirty-eight pounds. Lifting the bucket carries potential for injury if done incorrectly. It causes some painful toe stubbage, too, when I'm not careful.

My bucket of pennies is a lot like bitterness.

A lot of slights are really rather small - a sarcastic comment, an unreturned call, an off-hand remark, a dismissive look. But, like my pennies, so many of these low-value items gather and become baggage that gets in the way of life, often causing pain to us and to others.

But we can shift the metaphor, too, and my bucket of pennies is also like gratitude.

Most gifts are small, like pennies - a friendly smile on a difficult day, a door held open for you as you carry a cumbersome package, a note in the mail, an older friend reading with your child. My bucket of little pennies is worth around $63. Like so many pennies, we can collect little gifts of gratitude and see their value together.

What are you collecting, and what are you choosing to let go?

Monday, February 23, 2009

The Space in Between, Part VII

I drove to Cascade today, coming from the west rather than parts south or east. The road was unfamiliar. I had been on it only once, as a passenger, and on that day it was simply a means to an end.

But not today. Today it was beautiful. Today I took the time to admire it as I drove. Today I stopped several times along the way to savor it -- the still mirror of water, the intensely clean aroma of the mountain forest in winter, the noisy silence.

The "journeys" of life are like these spaces in between. There are stormy times when the best option may be to simply press on, trying to get through without stopping for more difficulty than necessary. But much of life is the in-between spaces of routine: family interactions, mealtimes, commuting, work, laundry, home repair, and stuff like that. And, like the road I was on today, there is often great beauty just waiting to be discovered by those who are paying attention.

The Space in Between, Part VI

Sunday mornings can feel a little too busy sometimes. I usually walk the building before and after worship services, talking with people in the hallways, kitchen, classrooms, sanctuary, and just about everywhere else. And I do love the activity, catching up a bit on the lives of people I love. I love gathering every week with "spiritual family" to worship and share our stories together. But it's pretty easy to get caught up in the activity and lose focus.

I worshiped yesterday with another Nazarene congregation on our District. At their church, they do announcements and other such things at the beginning of the service. It was an unfamiliar place, filled with people I didn't know, and I had just come from a Sunday School class. As much as I wanted to be fully present, it was hard to do with all that activity. But then... the pastor invited us into silence.

For several moments we sat quietly. I recognized in that time the rushed-ness of my own spirit, and (mostly) released it. It was almost like an airlock experience, depressurizing my soul so I could more truly acknowledge and respond to God.

Silence and solitudes are spiritual disciplines, meant to be incorporated into the rhythms of everyday life. There is abundant life in those in-between spaces.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Space in Between, Part V

There is a lot of space between Salt Lake City and Baker City, Oregon. We've seen a decent amount of it so far on the SDMI teaching tour, and have a bit yet to go. It's a long time to sit, the terrain isn't particularly appealing, and some of the weather was a little questionable, but I've really enjoyed traveling those vast spaces in between training events because we travel together and, as we travel, we talk. We talk about what it means to follow Jesus together, about how to do that effectively, about the God we trust. We tell stories to catch up on each others' lives, explore and acknowledge our struggles, laugh together, pray together. We learn what other churches are doing, what is working for them, what is not. I am loving the journey.

Friday, February 13, 2009

People Together

I enjoy the Dilbert comic strip, and read it regularly. A few months ago, I stumbled upon animations of the strip. I was disappointed that the characters do not sound like themselves. This, of course, brings up an obvious question: How could I know what they sound like? It seems that my imagination has taken hold.

This week's convention featured an excellent selection of speakers in both general session and workshop formats. Many of them are authors; I've read the books of several. It seemed to me that some of them didn't really sound like themselves. But that doesn't even make sense. Again I find that my imagination has filled in the blanks. Print media presents a message which, though it may reflect some of the author's personality somewhat, is really quite independent of that individual.

General sessions were interesting. The speakers were well-known pastors and/or authors. The thousands of attendees all came together in an enormous room. In that situation, it makes some sense to project real-time onto screens so even those far from the stage could see facial expressions and so forth, but the whole environment -- with special lighting, fog machines, several cameras, and sometimes ten-foot tall projections of speakers' faces -- seemed to create a sense of other-ness. It seemed to remove some of the human element.

It was good to see and hear some of the authors in the more natural environment of workshops, to recognize them as flesh-and-blood human beings with genuine souls and the experiences of everyday life. While not a strongly interactive situation, the smaller group size, absence of special effects, closer proximity, and Q&A opportunities seemed to provide a sort of grounding. We could see each other more as people.

We are created for relationship, to connect as people shaping and being shaped by our interactions with each other. These past several days have been wonderful. But I find myself looking forward even more to returning to the community of people who exist -- and with whom I can exist -- simply as human beings without all the hoopla.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Space in Between, Part IV

This looks like another picture of an airplane wing, but it's not. It's a picture of a mountain. Mount Shasta, I think, though I'm not quite sure. Let's assume for today that I'm right.

According to Wikipedia, a Boeing-737 has a wingspan of just under 95 feet and is 36.5 feet tall. That's why the pit crew people who so quickly scurry around it look pretty small. Not like tiny little ants, but even big guys who can hoist the luggage with the neon "HEAVY" tags are dwarfed when the plane drives up. At any rate, a plane looks pretty big, compared to us.

And Mount Shasta? At 14,179 feet (also from Wikipedia), it is the second-highest peak in the Cascade range. In other terms, it is nearly four hundred airplanes tall.

Yet this photo of a huge and majestic mountain looks like just another picture of an airplane wing because I was sitting on an airplane, far above and to the side. Too often I see life like this, with skewed perspective. There is quite a diversity of application here. I've been listening to folks talking about the potential benefits and worthwhile cautions of technology in biblical community, though, so that's what I'm thinking about right now...

Even as technology-based communication (Facebook, Twitter, texting, etc.) provides ways of exchanging information with others, I'm pretty sure the distance distorts a lot of the message and often creates relational distance in the process. And we don't usually recognize the distance because it all looks pretty clear from where we sit. So much of what we receive is disembodied parts, presenting a picture which does not adequately represent the whole, particularly when separated from genuine, consistent everyday-type relationship.

My deep and growing desire is for deep, authentic relationships with others. I'm still thinking about what all of this means.

Friday, February 6, 2009

The Space in Between, Part III

When it comes to long drives, I am definitely a fan of freeways. They are designed to move people in vehicles long distances at consistent and fast speeds, allowing us to reach destinations more quickly.

But there are times on such trips when I have wondered what I miss by driving so quickly and by staying on the prescribed path. Every so often, I add a little flexibility to my schedule so I can pause along the way. Today was one of those days, and it was great.

Twin Falls is situated next to the Snake River, and quite a ways above it. The Snake is between the freeway and the town. It is spanned by the I.B. Perrine bridge, which has a pathway leading just under the bridge. I stood there awhile, hearing and feeling the traffic rather than seeing it.

Malad Gorge was another worthy stop. A foot bridge crosses the Gorge a little below freeway level, providing a good long view in both directions. Even with the cars passing so close, it feels separate, distanced somehow. The wind was brisk, but not bitterly cold.

At this time of year, there is always at least a little uncertainty about driving weather. Not only were the roads dry, but the sky was even quite lovely in places, with just enough clouds to accentuate the blue:

Then, of course, there was the conference itself. It's one of those things that draws people who happen to have had a significant influence on my life through their friendship, teaching, and mentoring.

What a great day!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Extreme Mission, Extreme Accomplishment

January 26 was the one-year anniversary of the inauguration of the Bruno Radi Convention Center. Most people don't know where this convention center is located, or who Bruno Radi was, or why it's named after him. Thirteen months ago, I didn't, either. But then I flew to Argentina and invested time, money, relationships, and manual labor. This facility and what it represents became a part of me. The people I met there come to mind regularly. So do the ones I didn't meet.

It is particularly for the ones I didn't meet that the building was built, for those who do not have a relationship with God. Throughout the past year, the Bruno Radi Convention Center has been used almost every weekend to reach people for Christ, help them mature in faith, and develop skills for service. It has been used to host youth camps, pastor conferences, spiritual formation courses, concerts, and more. It is also rented to commercial groups, with the resulting income being re-invested in training.

Of the ten church plants we worked with in the area, four become fully recognized in 2008 and three anticipate reaching that point in 2009. The remaining three continue in that process as they worship, grow and serve their communities. I look forward to celebrating again with these ten church families, even from a distance, as they reach new milestones in ministry.

Extreme Nazarene doesn't sit on its laurels, though. Even before this venture in Argentina had been completed and entrusted to the care of capable South American leaders, Extreme's leaders were already moving quickly toward the next mission. They are now in Peru, developing and deploying 80 long-term and 1000 short-term missionaries into 120 communities, helping to address complex needs in those communities while introducing people to Christ and planting self-replicating churches.

Check out Extreme Peru here!

Monday, February 2, 2009

The Space in Between, Part II

One of the things I've been learning from Dan is finding beauty. I love his photography, because he can go to scenic places and to "ordinary" places, and find very cool-looking stuff in both. He is naturally gifted. I'm really not gifted in visual arts, but that's no excuse to ignore beauty, so I just work a little harder at it. That's part of the reason I've been traveling more recently with a camera. It is actually a spiritual discipline, a rather simple practice that actually helps me to grow in my faith.

The photo here is one I took in the Boise airport a couple weeks back. It is a hallway that connects my flights' gates to the rest of the airport, so I walk through it every time I fly into or out of Boise. Both sides are lined with windows that let in lots of light, and its place above the ground gives me the feeling of walking through a portal, from one world to another.

For all these reasons and more, it is one of those places in my life that I choose to pause just briefly whenever I'm there, and immerse myself in that moment. It is a place to recognize where I have been and where I am going. It is a time to stop and be fully present in the midst of routine. It is an opportunity to wait and see the world move forward without me.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Big Church

Children's ministries has its own lingo sometimes, and one term that seems to be common is "Big Church." For example, kids often join their families in Big Church for special events, and at SLC First, the 4-k group worships in Big Church for the first part of the service before going with Miss Betty for Stories of God.

Big Church can feel a bit foreign to kids -- and adults -- who have not been there before. These days I feel like that as I visit other churches during these weeks of leave. I have been part of church leadership long enough that it is easy to forget what it's like to be a visitor, and I want to see that experience with fresh eyes, and to become better able to help guests of SLC First to feel at home when I return.

It is foreign, too, because different churches do things differently. How do they honor Christ through the Lord's Supper? When do they baptize believers? What is in place to help people mature in their faith? Where do kids worship? These are important to me as a leader because they give me ideas. They are important to me as a visitor because I want to worship without the distractions of trying to figure out what is happening.

There is another part of this Big Church experience in my life -- the opportunity to experience even just a small taste of the Big Church existing beyond our walls. I had the privilege of doing this a year ago with Extreme Nazarene in Argentina, then this past summer in Barbados. I saw some of Big Church when I took teens to camp with hundreds of others across our District, and when we hosted teen quizzing.

The pastor where I worshiped today returned yesterday(?) from his own Big Church experience. He visited a multi-site church in the Philippines to talk with their leadership about ministry and to worship with thousands of others who are also tremendously excited about what God has done in their lives, and about what he continues to do.

There is one body, with many members. SLC First is part of Big Church.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Fierce in Seattle

I drove from Portland to Seattle late Sunday afternoon. I wished for just one more travel day, for the opportunity to take a detour and spend at least a couple of hours with friends in a little town where I lived for nine years, but stayed on the freeway heading north. Even so, I enjoyed just driving by signs with names of towns that sounded so normal when I was a kid simply because they were familiar, but now sound delightfully different, like Tukwila, Tenino, Pe Ell, Yelm, Steilacoom, Puyallup.

Monday was beautiful. Not cozy warm, of course, but sunny and beautiful, with just enough clouds to add visual interest to the blue sky. I stayed at a place near the Space Needle, and spent the two days at a wonderfully friendly, hospitable conference center right next to the water. The weather shifted to a cold, windy snow on Tuesday morning before returning to mere cloudiness by afternoon. It was fascinating.

Why Seattle? For Fierce Conversations.

I read the book about a year ago, and it's one of those which has planted itself firmly in my soul. The target audience is business leadership, but the applicability is far beyond that audience. In fact, I see the applicability to all levels of spiritual leadership -- families, care groups, Sunday School, pastors, board members, team leaders, etc. -- even greater than that in business. If you're thinking I'd recommend the book for you, you're probably right. Read it, and let's talk. I would love to hear what you think!

More on the book later. For now, here is a quote to chew on, from a really smart guy named Albert Einstein:

"We should take care not to make the intellect our god; it has, of course, powerful muscles, but no personality. It cannot lead; it can only serve."

Wednesday, January 21, 2009


Some decisions just don't require a lot of seeking-God's-will kind of prayer. Hold that thought; we'll come back to it, probably tomorrow.

I finished reading/re-reading Hybels' book Axiom last night. It's good stuff, all the way through. He spoke some about the concept and a few of the axioms at the 2008 Leadership Summit. He talked about the process of making good decisions, and said Christian leaders have typically pushed their decisions through a series of four questions:
  1. Does the Bible say anything about this?
  2. What would smart advisers advise me to do?
  3. What have we learned from the pain, gain, and experience of past decisions?
  4. Is the Spirit prompting in a particular direction?
The concept of the book is that good leaders, over time, become able to make better decisions and make them faster, essentially condensing their learning in all four questions into brief sayings that capture great truths. And that's not just true in "leadership." Consider conflict, work schedules, strengthening marriage, disciplining children, end of life, and so on. The issues may be complex, and situations different each time, but there are truths to discover throughout our lives that should guide us more clearly through the future.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Like Tweets?

I looked at Twitter a bit today. Can't say I'd be likely to use it, but at least it is a bit more familiar. So... here's a post inspired by Twitter...

Do I actually know anyone on Twitter? Who?

To the dentist. The folks there are some of the nicest people I never want to see.

Out and about, the whole town was creepy quiet. Everyone but me and the dentist watching the inauguration?

CNN described a scene at the inauguration this way: "...amid an affable crowd that tried to let shorter onlookers and children to the front for better views." As it should be.

Mark wants a photo looking across the Valley. Primary Children's has good lookout spot. See downtown beyond the trees? Nasty inversion. Ick.
Visited a young friend and her mom in hospital today. She's looking good, and has a great spirit. Made me smile. Great med staff there, too.

Mark called, just to say hello and ask if I'd survived the dentist. He is a good man.

Blogging through the lectionary again. The next passage is 1 Corinthians 6:12-20. Any of y'all want to take a stab at this one?

Monday, January 19, 2009

The God Who Knows Me

Epiphany is the season of the liturgical year when Christians for many centuries have celebrated God being revealed, particularly through the person of Jesus. Psalm 139 is an Old Testament passage -- that is, written before Jesus came to earth as a baby -- which reveals God in a particularly interesting sort of meta-way; that is, it reveals God as one who reveals us.

O Lord, you have searched me
and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue
you know it completely, O Lord...
Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.
(Psalm 139:1-4, 23-24)

God knows each one of us, and wants to be known by each one of us. It's individual, and interpersonal. The God of the universe is not satisfied simply to be respected; He seeks genuine relationship.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Entrusted Revelation

When he was a very young boy, Samuel's parents dedicated him to the Lord. This meant something different than when we do baby dedications at church; they actually left him under the care of Eli the priest, allowing him to be raised in the temple, to serve there. One night after bedtime, Samuel responded when called, and went to Eli: "Here I am." But it was not Eli who had called him. This was repeated twice more, and Eli realized what was happening. It was actually God calling to Samuel, and Samuel did not recognize God. Eli gave Samuel brief instruction in this new experience: "Go and lie down, and if he calls you, say, 'Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening'" (I Samuel 3).

God had been there the whole time, but Samuel had not yet learned to recognize Him, and did not know how to respond. This young boy had been entrusted to the care and instruction of Eli. What a privilege, and what a responsibility! Young Samuel grew up to be a tremendously influential figure in the story of Israel. I wonder what may have been different if Eli had not taken hold of such teachable moments with him.

Parents, grandparents, teachers, coaches, neighbors, friends, and others -- which potential conversations does God entrust to you, and how will you respond, this week, and beyond?

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Goodnight, Brother

Rev. Louis Z. Enriquez passed away on Tuesday. Today I joined hundreds of others in honoring his life, mourning our loss, and celebrating his home-going. He was a man who loved God, loved his family, loved his congregation, loved his community. He loved being a pastor, and kept at it until the very end.

During the funeral, one of the pastors (I don't remember which one -- there were many!) referred to II Timothy 4, in which the apostle Paul addressed young Timothy, to whom he had been a mentor. In those moments, verses 7-8 nearly leaped off the page at me:

"I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day -- and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing."

Amazingly, the tremendous crowd in the sanctuary today represents only a relatively small portion of those Brother Louie impacted throughout his life and fifty years of ministry. He served Christ with faithful persistence and great love. He fought the good fight, finished the race, kept the faith. He served with the joy of knowing that, by the grace of God, a crown of righteousness would be his.

As one pastor said at the end of the graveside service, we did not come to say goodbye, but goodnight, and Brother Louie, we'll see you in the morning.

Friday, January 16, 2009

The Space In Between

My flight today was scheduled to leave at 10:50am, and we were
actually on track to take off a little bit early. The plane pulled back from the gate and turned toward the runway, then stopped. They needed to de-ice the runway first, and found a mechanical issue on the plane in the process. We returned to the gate, filed off the aircraft, and waited a couple of hours until they could get another plane for us. Quite a few were inconvenienced, particularly due to missing connections, but it was a good group of folks. The airline employees remained friendly and professional while working efficiently to address the problems, and the demeanor of the passengers generally ranged from mere quiet sighs of some due to the delay, to happy laughter of others they filled the time with conversation. It was nice to have that time together with such people.

In our hurry-driven culture, such events are too seldom so relaxed. Too often we fret, as if that were capable simply by worrying of changing the situation for the better. I like Heather Ryan's perspective at such times, in Why I Love Traffic Jams. She references an article which says peak-time travelers spend an extra 38 hours per year in traffic jams, then re-frames that "wasted" time. "Too often traveling is just the quickest route between two points. We forget the vast spaces in-between." I want to look more often and more deeply into those vast spaces.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Warrior God

I listened tonight to a sermon preached by Pastor Craig Groeschel at He speaks of a God bigger than the safe, super-sweet, excessively gentle, non-challenging one that we too often have grabbed hold of in our culture. He proclaims that the God who is love is also a warrior. This is a God worth following.

It's certainly not a new idea. Check out Psalm 29:3-5:
The voice of the Lord is over the waters;
the God of glory thunders,
the Lord thunders over the mighty waters.
The voice of the Lord is powerful;
the voice of the Lord is majestic.
The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars;
the Lord breaks in pieces the cedars of Lebanon.

This is the God who calls us to something far beyond our silly little false conceptions.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

What Will I Do?

I had some errands to run today. Nothing complicated, just a series of little stops here and there for simple little things. I wrote them all down before I left so I wouldn't forget any, and so I could travel in an efficient order. Once the list was written, I was nearly ready to tackle it. The only thing left to do was make sure I had everything I would need along the way. That was easy, too.

But then came the question in my head: What will I bring to do if I have to wait somewhere? After all, I was going to have ten minutes of not-driving while my car's oil was changed. Heaven forbid I wind up in such a situation without activity.

Where does this come from? There are some deadlines looming, and there is much to accomplish. It would be easy to pretend that I'm only trying to be efficient with my time, but that's not my deepest motivation. Perhaps I've become so accustomed to consistent activity that full stillness has somehow become uncomfortable.

I think this is a significant part of why God commanded us to honor Sabbath. When I set aside a day each week to step away from the constant activity and conflicting expectations of typical daily life, I test out and gain confidence in what I already know in my head to be true -- that God really is in control, that the world will continue spinning just fine without me watching its every move. It is good to rest in the presence and goodness of God.

I am thankful for the gift of Sabbath.