Friday, May 28, 2010

A bit of history

In AD 218, early Church Father, Hippolytus said this about those being converted from the broader Roman world to the new community of Christianity:
"The professions and trades of those who are going to be accepted into the community must be examined. The nature and type of each must be established... brothel, sculptors of idols, charioteer, athlete, gladiator... give it up or be rejected. A military constable must be forbidden to kill, neither may he swear; if he is not willing to follow these instructions, he must be rejected. A proconsul or magistrate who wears the purple and governs by the sword shall give it up or be rejected. Anyone taking or already baptized who wants to become a soldier shall be sent away, for he has despised God."

Not too long after this was written, Christians decided to rethink their commitment to the cross. Constantine and his minister of proganda, Augustine reworked parts of Christian doctrine and practice and reversed the status of Christianity, from oppressed to oppressor.
If you think about it, it's quite ironic that Constantine saw an image of the cross before the battle of the Milvian Bridge. The cross of Jesus is an act of laying down one's life to save the lives of your enemies while war is the act of killing your enemies to save your own life or the lives of those close to you.
Other than small Jesus-movements here and there, like the Mennonites or groups like Simple Way or Christian Peacemaking Teams, Christianity has never really recovered from Constantine removing the cross and replacing it with the sword. Although, I believe there is a change happening. I believe a lot of people are being freed from their cultural constructs and re-discovering the teachings of Jesus. As Shane Claiborne wrote, "we can admire and worship Jesus without doing what he did. We can applaud what he preached and stood for without caring about the same things. We can adore his cross without taking up ours."

And to quote Soren Kierkegaard,
"The matter is quite simple. The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand, we are obliged to act accordingly. Take any words in the New Testament and forget everything except pledging yourself to act accordings. My God, you will say, if I do that my whole life will be ruined. How would I ever get on in the world? Herein lies the real place of Christian scholarship. Christian scholarship is the Church's prodigious invention to defend itself against the Bible, to ensure that we can continue to be good Chrisitians without the Bible coming too close. Oh, priceless scholarship, what would we do without you? Dreadful it is to fall into the hands of the living God. Yes, it is even dreadful to be alone with the New Testament."

And to quote Claiborne one more time, "When it comes to the world's logic of redemptive violence, Christians have a major stumbling block on their hands - namely, the cross.

There comes a point where we recognize we're trying to serve two masters, and we have to choose which one we will serve. Our arms are just not big enough to carry both the cross and the sword.
We can learn from the bloody pages of history. The more vigorously we try to root out evil by force, the more evil will escalate. For every Muslim extremist killed, another is created. Likewise, the more passionately we love our enemies, the more evil will diminish. This is also the story of the martyrs - for every Chrsitian killed at the hands of evil, another would rise up, converted by their faithful self-sacrificial love. And historically, Christianity spreads most rapidly when we are killed at the hands of evildoers without retaliating. It's the story of the growth of the church during the great persecutions. They wrote that for every one of them who was killed, there were ten converts. As the saying goes, 'In the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the saints.' The paradox is that the church is healthiest during eras of persecution, and it gets sick during periods of comfort and ease and power."

1096; not so much

From 2000 to 2005, I was a courier at FedEx. I ran the same route for all five of those years, the industrial park just north of Oak Park Mall. For four of those five years, I was a student at NTS. The last year, I was working to gather a core group to launch Trinity Family.

I also learned a lot of codes during those five years as a courier; FedEx loves codes. Probably my favorite code was "1096." It was a code we would send to dispatch when we'd finished all of our assigned pickups, the code meant "request clearance." Dispatch would check to make sure we'd gotten all of our stops, then check to see if any routes around us needed help. If everything was clear, they'd approve the request and send us and our freight back to the station.

I can still remember my final 1096, it was hot day in early August. TFC was one week from going public with our worship gatherings and I was quitting FedEx to go full time at TFC. Rather than sending a message to dispatch, I actually got on the radio so all the other couriers could hear. I gleefully called out, "1096 - for the REST OF MY LIFE!"

FedEx was a good company to work for but I was done, I was ready to go full-time in living out God's calling in my life for pastoral ministry. For years, I've claimed I'll never go back, no more bi-vocational ministry, I like doing this thing full-time.

Tuesday was my first day back at FedEx. I've got the same employee number but I'm starting over in seniority. TFC has dipped to the point in which we can no longer pay a full-time salary so I have no choice but to take a second job to support my family. A couple months ago, before I knew I'd be taking an approximately 40% pay cut, we jumped at the chance for Erin to go part-time as a jobshare. My former salary combined with Erin's part-time salary would've been enough to cover our basic needs, but two part-time jobs isn't enough. While I'm doing much better with it than I was when I wrote this post (which I actually buried so it wouldn't be on the front page) I'm still not too excited about working two jobs. I'm not doing my old job of courier, though I'm actually working as a package handler. While being a courier pays more, it also adds a level of stress I'm not able to take into my life at this point. I'm also working a different shift, while a courier starts an evening shift, I'm working from 6 - 9 in the morning. I'm going to have to work Saturdays, which I'm not excited about and will have one day off during the week.

There are however, some clear signs of God's guidance in all of this.
- When you combine the hourly wage, insurance and tuition reimbursement, the pay from FedEx will come within a couple thousand dollars of making up for the reduction in pay from TFC.
- At first, we were bummed Erin had to work every afternoon in her jobshare rather than working every other day. Well, it's sure working out good now.
- My new manager told me on Tuesday that he takes care of us guys with two jobs, he'll do his best to get us out before 9 every morning.
- I've already met some cool new guys and reconnected with old friends/ coworkers.
- The physical labor will be a good boost for my slowing metabolism.
- While working Saturdays will mean I'll never get a weekend, there are some Saturdays open for me to take personal days.
- I found out FedEx can give times of unpaid leave. So while I'm only going to have two weeks of vacation, starting next summer I could take some unpaid leave for some mission trips I'm looking into. More info coming on that, but it would be trips with this group.
- While I was bummed that I had to start working at FedEx while being on vacation from TFC this week, after working on Tuesday I was told my paperwork hadn't come through yet so I couldn't actually start. So I've had the rest of the week off to relax with my family. We've had a low-key week of vacation.

If I had a choice of 1) take a 40% pay cut and become a bi-vocational pastor or 2) continue on full-time at TFC with the same salary, I'd take #2 in a heartbeat. But that's not reality right now, so I'm learning to live out what Paul wrote from prison in Philippians, "... for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ who gives me strength."
And as a side note, that final verse is often taken out of context but the "everything" is referring to having contentment in difficult financial times.

Working a second job while also going to school is going to require some changes in what I do and how I lead. To be honest, I'm not quite sure what those changes will look like yet but I know I've gotta (to quote Nate Warren) find a "new rhythm." I hope to be sharing what those changes will look like at some all-church meetings on June 20th and 27th.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Who (or what) are we really worshipping - a reminder

This coming July, the Church's weekly celebration of the empty tomb just so happens to land on the same day as our nation's annual celebration of independence from England. So what is the worshipping community, the "called-out" people of God, the "citizens of Heaven" to do on that day? Unfortunately, I'm guessing many churches will participate in some form of idolatry, wrapped up in the feel-good rituals of patriotism.

In the weekly email from my boss - District Superintendent - we received this reminder of why the church exists and why the church gathers for worship.

Good morning, Pastor

Here is a real, internal church staff communication that I want you to think about. This comes from another district and the names are all changed, but the message is very real:

"I was just noticing that July 4th is on Sunday this year. I would like to do a BIG "Patriotic Sunday" emphasis. It occurred to me that we might get some other groups involved in a community worship and barbeque if we got started. George, I would like the Ministry Board to co-ordinate the dinner. We may need to have it at the American Legion if we can get Dave and the Legion involved. Sue, we'll need lots of "God and Country" music. The kind people know and love to sing. Shirley, maybe you could talk to Jack about getting some ROTC guys involved, maybe a flag ceremony or something. Also, it would be good to get the kids involved in the pledges. Sam, we'll need a lot of red, white and blue decorations. Flags, etc. I think we might be able to do this as a "community" service if we plan it right!

Friends, think with me about this. While it would not be wise or proper to completely ignore the fact that Sunday, July 4th also happens to be American Independence Day, it is first and foremost the Lord’s Day. Please do not lose sight of the purpose of our gathering and the vows we have taken to proclaim faithfully the Gospel. Regardless of what will no doubt be happening in many churches across the land on that day, the truth is that American Independence Day is not a part of the Christian calendar. This precious hour that we have together once a week is and always must be dedicated to the worship of God and the exaltation of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is also an hour in which Christians from all nations gather under the banner of the kingdom of God, not under the banner of any particular State. Even in our middle America congregations, we welcome to many of our churches on a weekly basis Christians from many nations of the world and we make no distinction, for we believe what the Bible instructs us to believe, that in Christ “there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female,” for we all are one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28). Please do not misunderstand. I have no problem with acknowledging the significance of the day for Americans in our services. We should be sure to pray together in focused ways for our nation, our leaders, and those who give their lives in public service. My concern is when patriotism, even nationalism, and Christianity become commingled and in many ways become one expression of the same thing. Namely, that if we can somehow make the systems and structures of America line up with biblical principles then our lives will be secure and our existence will be peaceful and prosperous. It’s a good goal to live and work as Christians in such a way that the State would reflect the kingdom of God just as we want our homes and our churches to reflect God’s kingdom. But there is a danger to which we can succumb if we are not diligent and that is the danger of beginning to trust Caesar to secure our lives more than we trust God. Pastor, I’m asking you to be careful as you lead your people in worship on Sunday, July 4th. I say to you simply but with great intention, “Let us worship God.”

I'm currently reading The Irresitible Revolution by Shane Claiborne. I highly recommend that book. Claiborne shared some thoughts on the wave of patriotism that came after the 9/11 attacks.
"This burst of nationalism reveals the deep longing we all have for community, a natural thirst for intimacy that liberals and progressive Christians would have done much better to acknowledge. September 11th shattered the self-sufficient, autonomous individual, and we saw a country of broken fragile people who longed for community - for people to cry with, be angry with, to suffer with. People did not want to be alone in their sorrow, rage and fear.
But what happened after September 11th broke my heart. Conservative Christians rallied around the drums of war. Liberal Christians took to the streets. The cross was smothered by the flag and trampled under the feet of angry protesters. The church community was lost, so the many hungry seekers found community in the civic religion of American patriotism. People were hurting and crying out for healing, for salvation in the best sense of the word, as in the salve with which you dress a wound. A people longing for a savior placed their faith in the fragile hands of human logic and military strength, which have always let us down. They have always fallen short of the glory of God."

"For the flag and the cross are both spiritual. And they are both political. It is a dangerous day when we can take the cross out of the church more easily than the flag. No wonder it is hard for seekers to find God nowadays. It's difficult to know where Christianity ends and America begins. Our money says, 'In God We Trust.' God's name is on America's money, and America's flag is on God's altars."

Based upon John 3:1-8 and Luke 14:26, Claiborn argues that with conversion, we're born into a new family. "Biological family is too small of a vision. Patriotism is far too myopic. A love for our own relatives and a love for our own country are not bad things, but our love does not stop at teh border. We now have a family that is much broader than biology, that runs much deeper than nationalism. Jesus is telling us that we have a family in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in Palestine. We have family members who are starving and homeless, or dying of AIDS, or in the midst of war."

We are very fortunate to live in the nation in which we live. When the 4th lands on a Sunday, worship God with the gathered community and thank God for your nation during the fireworks show. We MUST remember this, however - our allegiance is not to a flag or a country but a King and a Kingdom. Jesus calls us to love not only our neighbors across the street or across the nation but across the ocean as well. And finally, the freedom that Jesus gives is not won through the killing of our enemies -as was the birth of our nation - but in dying for and at the hands of enemies.

To quote Paul one more time, "the cross is foolishness."

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Experiencing Pentecost

Yesterday was Pentecost Sunday. To celebrate, we stepped out of our regular worship routine to step into a time of experiential worship following the themes of Acts 2. We had 7 different stations set up for families and individuals to engage and live-out Acts 2. We ended our worship with a time of prayer.
It was a good day of worship.

A new family from Trinity Family

As I was massaging the feet of my exhausted wife/ wedding coordinator on Saturday night, after all the wedding festivities had ended we were discussing how Zach and Valerie's wedding was one of the most beautiful wedding celebrations we'd ever been a part of. I must say Zach was the most relaxed I'd ever seen a groom - but, come to think about it, Zach is one of the most laid-back people I know. And Valerie was one of the happiest brides I'd ever been around - glowing and laughing the entire day.

This isn't the first wedding to come from TFC, Mike and Elizabeth Palmer were the first, but this is the first time I had the privelege of officiating the ceremony of a couple that met within our church.

I was so determined to do things right for Zach and Val that I was actually pretty nervous. Combine that with the dim lights in the sanctuary, making it hard to see my notes and I did let out a pretty big slip. I accidently replaced "sacredness" with "sadness." The whole place was busting out laughing for about a minute and I thought I might just lose it in a fit of laughter, but I composed myself and with the slip-up behind me was able to relax and enjoy a beautiful moment.

So, congrats to the new couple. As I said in my marriage homily, "Zach and Val are the real deal. They love God, each other and those around them. My wife, Dawson and I are all better off for having them in our lives."

Monday, May 17, 2010

Small Church = Big Impact

A church can impact the culture around it in many different ways. The most commonly thought of and the way most often used to measure a church "success" is by counting the number of people who call that church "home." In fact, that was about the only way I knew how to measure a church's fruitfulness coming out of seminary.

That way of making an impact, however has not been TFC's story. Our church has taken a different path, one that's way out of the box - too far out of the box for most seasoned church-goers - but is helping break paradigms for measuring "success."

I was trained with the idea of bringing people to church in order to share the love of Jesus with them but TFC is working to bring church to people in order to share that life-changing love. Not only are we sharing Jesus' love with people who will never darken the door of a church building (or a school building in our case) but we're helping other church leaders gain a fresh perspective on the work of helping spread the reality of Jesus' Kingdom.

A good friend and colleague here in the KC area used to be on staff at one of the largest churches in our denomination. Just recently, he had a conversation with his former boss who asked him, "have you heard about this church in your area that does this ministry called Love Wins?" My friend responded, "as a matter of fact, I have heard of that church." TFC was helping change that pastor's paradigm.

A few weeks ago, a letter I wrote explaining our relationship with the clubs in our county was read by a senator on the floor of the State Senate in Topeka. The senator called me up later to say, "thanks for your ministry." So the entire legislative body of Kansas is having their church-paradigm stretched.

Pastor Andy will be at his home church in Alabama in a couple weeks to share about his work with Love Wins. The District Superintendent of Alabama is planning on being there because he's wanting to challenge the entire state to follow TFC's example in taking the love of Jesus outside the walls of the church.

Last week, Pastor Andy was going through his annual District re-licensure meeting - talking with older and ordained pastors from KC. He told me, "when they realized I was from TFC, they basically gave me a standing ovation." But when Andy began to share how he's expanded Love Wins he said their jaws almost hit the floor in amazement.

A few months ago, my DS Jeren Rowell, was having a conversation with another church leader who was asking whether any Church of the Nazarene in the US would have the guts to start a specific ministry. Jeren then told them that a church on his District (yes, it's us) was doing exactly that. I guess someone in North America has to be the first.

Small in numbers, big in scope of our impact. And I'm starting to think our small size may be on purpose. I'm not sure we'd be able to do church the way we do if we were larger, there would likely be too high of expectations that we fit into a more mainstream mold.

Nope, that's just not us. And I think it makes God smile.

My Boy is Walking!

It took him awhile, almost 15 months but he's doing it.

You can read about it here.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Invasion of the mounties

Imagine this hypothetical situation, if you will.

What if our neighbors to the north, "Oh, Canada..." began to experience a maple syrup shortage. Now we're all aware of Canada's dependence upon maple sugar, their economic survival depends upon an un-interrupted maple sugar flow. Sure, prices at the grocery store fluctuate over time but bottles and bottles of maple syrup are always available in the "maple syrup" aisle. But we all know that hockey players burn a lot of calories, so they need a lot of maple syrup. And if their supply began to run low, as this hypothetical proposes, they'd need to look elsewhere for maple syrup supplies.

This supply would make the average Canadian lumberjack very angry, they wouldn't like standing in long lines and paying way-t00-high prices at the check-out aisle, so they'd complain to the government. What if the Canadian government responded by sending a platoon of Mounties across the border and down into Michigan. Now we all know that with the coming of Rich Rodriguez and the spread offense to Michigan, those Wolverines have no fight left in them at all. So the Mounties would have no problem taking over Michigan, placing their favorite governor in office (even asinating the old one if necessary), realigning the county and city governments to make it easier to extract and export maple syrup. If the residents of the Bucknut state began to revolt against the Mounties, the Canadian government would just train the local Michiganders to fight the Bucknuts. Of course, if the Canadian government didn't like how their favorite governor was using this new training, they'd just asinate him and bring in another governor.

But eventually, Michigan wouldn't be enough land area to supply the growing Canadian economy, so the Mounties would be sent further south and west, leading them right into my town of Gardner, KS. But the problem with Kansas is that there aren't as many maple syrup trees, so the mounties would need to control more area. But those horses are tough and who are we Jayhawkers to stop them, so they just convert massive areas of Kansas to "Mountie camps," places where the men can rest and be re-supplied and the horses can graze.

Unfortunately for us Kansans, though the Canadian government has determined that Mountie camps need to be located near the maple tree forests but those forests just so happen to be located near our most holy of sites; Allen field house, the world's largest ball of twine, the beautiful flint hills and the Global Ministries Center of the Church of the Nazarene. But because Mounties are tougher than Jayhawks, we'd be powerless to stop them. They'd set up their camps wherever they want. And if local Kansans rebelled against Canadians enforcing their economic policies, they'd send in a surge of Mounties to trample all who stand in their way. While those trample-sessions did eliminate a lot of "bad guys," they also took out a few innocent bystanders.

What if one of those innocent bystanders was my neighbor's 7 year old son? Here's my poor neighbor; is government is (at least partly) placed there by Canadians, he can't go to the GMC anymore to pay his "tithe plus 3%" to the COTN and he can't even watch the Jayhawks at Allen Field house anymore - all of which has caused his family business to collapse, plunging his family into poverty. He can live with that, but he can't live with the Mounties killing his son and calling it "collateral damage in the effort to protect the Canadian way of life."

So my neighbor may very well decide he's had enough, so he drives up north to the largest supermarket in Toronto and attempt an act of terrorism in the maple syrup aisle. Thankfully, some good-hearted law enforcement officials in Canada would smell that Kansas from a mile away (his Nick Collison jersey being another clue) and stop the act before it could be completed.

Well, this would seriously, and justifiably anger all Canadians. They would demand that the government use a special force of mounties to eliminate all people in Kansas like my neighbor. So the mounties would march into Kansas with an even larger force than the occupation force already in Kansas and when my neighbor refuses to come out of his house, they'd launch a bunch of hockey pucks into his house to make sure he never did such a terrible thing again.

Canadians would cheer the action. The man who shot the hockey pucks would believe he's protecting his family - and in a way, he'd be right. But the average Canadian, even the guy firing the pucks, would be completely unaware of the actions of their own government that prompted my neighbor to attempt such a terrible and evil thing. Most Canadians are good, honest, hard-working people. They serve their community, serve their church, love their family, participate in lumber-jack Olympics and watch 12 on 12 Canadian football with it's 20 yard end zones. All the while completely unaware of how the actions of their very own government was resulting in the oppression and exploitation of under-resourced Kansans and the terrible act of violence committed by my neighbor. They don't buy maple syrup thinking "I'm helping promote a system of oppression and exploitation created by our government, business and market forces." Nope, they're just putting maple syrup on their apple-wood pancakes. They aren't aware of politicians who believe Canada has a right to control the best maple syrup producing areas of the world - even if they're in another country, they're just buying maple syrup.

Unfortunately, hockey pucks aren't always completely accurate and one of them might miss my neighbor's house and land in my son's bedroom, killing my only son. What would that do to me? Honestly, I don't know. I love my son more than life itself and can't imagine how I'd respond. I'm pretty sure I'd be really mad at the Canadians, though.

Or what if that puck flew into my bedroom, killing my wife and me, causing my son to grow up as an orphan? Do you think he'd grow up loving and respecting Canada? Nope, probably not. He might even join the group that influenced my neighbor to blow up Toronto's maple syrup aisle so he could eventually get revenge upon Canada. My son might very well commit a terrible act of his own to protest the presence of Mounties in his native state, resulting in his own house being blown up. But by then, Canada could launch the hockey pucks via satellite, calling them "drones" and bragging that no Canadian goalies risked their lives taking out evil people like my son.

And the system of violence and economic oppression would continue throughout the generations. The only thing to stop this cycle would be 1) Canada finding a substitute for the maple syrup in Kansas 2) Canadians educating themselves on how Canadian policies effect the weak and poor in Kansas or 3) A Roman-esq collapse of the mighty Canadian empire brought on by the spending of trillions of dollars to support the Mountie presence in Kansas. Kansas could take heart in the fact that one day one of those scenarios will become a reality.

"He who lives by the sword dies by the sword." - Jesus

Any connection between the above hypothetical story and the recent terrorism attempt of a Pakestinian/American citizen and the US dropping bombs on insurgent targets in Pakistan is completely coincidental.

“The US cannot win the war on terrorism unless we confront the social and political roots of poverty. It’s very hard to be angry with someone who just fed you, it’s very hard to want to drop a bomb on someone who just built you a village. No nation, no matter how powerful it is, will ever be safe until it has dealt with ‘economic desperation.’” - Colin Powell

I once preached a sermon along these lines, it was from Revelation 17-19 and entitled "The Fall of Babylon." If you were so inclined, you could read or listen to that sermon here.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

A Public Service Announcement

I remember sitting in Mr. Pauley's 7th grade homeroom class in January of 91, watching CNN's footage of smart-bombs that were being guided down chimneys into targets. It was amazing to know that we could pinpoint military targets.

But what CNN conveniently forgot to tell us was that those smart-bombs had a 40% failure rate and that just two weeks into the war, we went back to WWII style "carpet-bombing."

Monday, May 10, 2010

Some thoughts on Heaven

On Sunday, I took a completely different approach to preaching. Ben Delong's dad, who is himself a pastor, called it "treaching." I did some typical monologue stuff but I also opened it up for dialogue several times as I went along. I think the stopping and asking for feedback came as a bit of a shock, but I hope it will catch on. I'm also open to ideas for being more engaging. I'm much more skilled and rehearsed in giving a monologue than leading an informed discussion.

You can listen to the treaching here.

I also shared some thoughts on Heaven, hoping to reclaim the biblical idea of heaven from the western (think Plato and greek philosophy).

Leading the way in this discussion is NT Wright. Here is a short video on the subject.
I'd encourage you to check out the related videos on the right hand column.

Or I could just embed it...

Finally, here's a quote from Surprised by Hope that I was going to share on Sunday but ran out of time:

"There is ultimately no justification for a private piety that doesn't work out in actual mission, just as there is ultimately no justification for people who use their activism in the social, cultural, or political sphere as a screen to prevent them from facing the same challenges within their own lives - the challenge, that is, of God's kingdom, of Jesus' lordship, and of the Spirit's empowering. If the gospel isn't transforming you, how do you know that it will transform anything else?"


"Sunday's Coming" Movie Trailer from North Point Media on Vimeo.

5 years ago, we were getting ready to launch TFC and this video is a perfect picture of what I thought church was all about. My oh my have I changed....
I guess that's why it's called a "journey."

I found this video via Michael Palmer, you can read his thoughts here.

A blog from a pretty smart dude

I just came across a blog from a former professor at seminary, Dan Boone. Dan is currently the president of Trevecca Nazarene University, though while he was teaching adjunct at NTS, he was the pastor of College Church of the Nazarene in Burbannais, Il.

It's my own personal opinion that Dan Boone is quite likely the wisest, most thought-provoking and the most biblically grounded of all the major leaders in our denomination. If you combine my one class with Dan Boone and my other class with his brother-in-law, Andy Johnson, I likely learned about as much in those two classes than all other classes of my 8 years of schooling combined. And to top it off, Dan is a genuinely friendly and approachable guy.

So, here's his blog, enjoy.

Who really needs to die?

"Through Jesus we all have to face the embarassing truth that we are our primary problem, it is we who must die, he teaches, not others.
Our greatest temptation is to try to change other people instead of ourselves. Jesus allowed himself to be transformed and this transformed others. That is the meaning of the necessary death of Jesus."

- Richard Rohr

City-Wide Serve Day

On Saturday, more than 200 Christ-followers from 10 different churches in Gardner joined together in serving the community. We had groups helping with home repair in low or fixed-income housing communities. We had groups helping beautify parks in the city's park-and-rec division. The group I lead put down mulch at the base of every single tree on the GEHS campus.

Before going out to serve, we gathered together at Cornerstone Park for a "thank-you" from our Mayor and to pray together. As our group was preparing to spread out across the city, I was thinking of a quote from NT Wright's book, Surprised by Hope.

"But what we can and must do in the present, if we are obedient to the gospel, if we are following Jesus and if we are indwelt, energized, and directed by the Spirit, is to build for the Kingdom. This brings us back to 1 Corinthians 15:58 once more; what you do in the Lord is not in vain. You are not oiling the wheels of a machine that's about to roll over a cliff. You are not restoring a great painting that's shortly going to be thrown on the fire. You are not planging roses in a gardnen that's about to be dug up for a building site. You are - strange though it may seem, almost as hard to believe as the resurrection itself - accomplishing something that will become in due course part of God's new world. Every act of love, gratitude, and kindess; every work of art or music inspired by the love of God and delight in the beauty of his creation; every minute spent teaching a severly handicapped child to read or to walk; every act of care and nurture, of comfort and support, for one's fellow human beings and for that matter one's fellow nonhuman creature; and of course every prayer, all Spirit-lead teaching, every deed that spreads the gospel, builds up the church, embraces and embodies holiness rather than corruption, and makes the name of Jesus honored in the world - all of this will find its way through the resurrecting power of God, into the new creation that God will one day make. That is the logic of the mission of God. God's recreation of his wonderful world, which began with the resurrection of Jesus and continues mysteriously as God's poeple live in the risen Christ and in the power of his Spirit, means that what we do in Christ and by the Spirit in the present is not wasted. It will last all the way into God's new world. In fact, it will be enhanced there."

Friday, May 7, 2010

My sweet wife = Grace

It was exactly two years ago, on a Saturday afternoon, that I was trying to decide whether I should mow the lawn or go to the audition for Gardner Community Theatre's summer production of The Music Man. I quickly mowed the lawn then headed over to GEHS to "just see if I can get a spot in the chorus." Well, a progression that began with Dan Naden convincing me to go sing "Happy Birthday" in the audition room to the director, Franci pulling me out of the callbacks crowd and asking "will you take any part I give you," I ended up being cast as the lead.
Here's my first post on that surprised casting and here's the list of all the GCT related posts. From making some great friends to adopting our son, Dawson the flyer I found in a Walmart shopping cart that lead me to tryouts and to the GCT family, our involvement with GCT has greatly changed our lives - for the better.

Two years later, at the auditions for Annie, a similar casting experience happened to my wife. Erin and I were at PRMS, helping with auditions. Erin was pretty sure she wasn't going to audition but during a slow time in which no one was auditioning, Judy Sass helped Erin learn a song and she decided to sing before the directors. She was called back the next evening and read for several parts, one being Grace - Warbucks personal secretary and eventual love interest and eventual adopted mother for Annie.

The next day, Erin got a call from the Annie director, Annette. Annette asked a similar question of Erin that Franci asked of me two years ago, "are you willing to play Grace?" Erin was hesitant and nervous but she bravely accepted the role. Annette told Erin that when she was reading with the eventual Warbucks and Annie, she could see in Erin's eyes her love for an adopted child.

That's not too surprising, when we think back on our story. In the fall of 2007 we watched some friends in another production of Annie. We went to this show just after the terrible experience of Erin spending all night at the hospital as the baby boy we were considering adopting was still-born, story here. There's a scene in Annie in which Warbucks' plans to adopt her fall through, prompting Warbucks to sing "You were almost my baby." I remember the ache in our hearts as we listened to that song.

And now we're parents of a wonderful little boy who we know to be a specially-delivered gift from God. So whatever amount of love Annette was able to see in Erin's eyes for an adopted child, it's just a fraction of what exists in both of our hearts. adoption posts

And let me just add, I'm very proud of my wife for this casting. She's a wonderful singer and has a great stage-presence. Really, I'm not surprised she was given this role. I'm going to enjoy watching her spread her warmth and talent throughout this production. Should be another fun GCT summer.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Pastor Swap

During the month of April Ben Stears, Ty Cross and myself preached a sermon series at each other's churches. I joked with Fellowship Bible that while it's great to be a pastor and only have to work one day a week, I'm never able to visit other churches in town - so I enjoyed the opportunity. I joked with each congregation that I'm glad they get to hear some good preaching for once, which got a good laugh. But when I cracked the KU joke at each church, I acknowledged I wouldn't be invited back after that comment.

There's an energy that comes with being a guest speaker, too. Not that our congregations don't appreciate the work we do in preparing a message each week, but there's an energy that comes with bringing your own unique perspective and style to a different congregation. As Ty kept saying, "the same message preached by someone else will be heard in a fresh way." Ben had his church ready to welcome us; when I walked on the platform the congregation burst out into a loud applause. It was such a cool surprise, I asked them to do it again. I then proceeded to bust them over the head with that difficult message on the elder son. There's also a freedom in preaching at a different congregation - you can just "let it rip" so to speak.

The sermon series was on Luke's parable of the prodigal son. Here's the list of sermons on TFC's website, link. Ty and Ben both nailed it on their Sundays at TFC. My wife said she was a "bubbling mess" after Ben's message. You can also listen or download the mp3's at the Indian Creek website of the Fellowship Bible website.

We're finishing this combined effort through a community-wide service project this Saturday. While only three of us worked together in the 'pastor-swap,' 10 churches and over 250 people will be serving Gardner in various ways this Saturday morning. It will be a great time.

Brother Lawrence

A quote used in The Divine Hours.

"Lord, make me according to Thy heart." - Brother Lawrence


I was reading a sermon delivered by Reuben Welch in a student chapel at Point Loma Nazarene University in 1976. The sermon was from a series Welch did on the book of Hebrews and the book is appropriately titled, When You Run Out Of Fantastic, Persevere. There's a lot of great stuff in this book that has been speaking directly to me; adjusting to life turning out differently than expected, following Christ for his own sake even when it feels like it could cost you everything, throwing off the sin that entangles us as we're running the journey. The quote I'm about to write here is commentary Hebrews 12:3-11, specifically verses 11, "No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening - it's painful! But afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way."

Here's what Reuben Welch had to say:

A part of that different attitude that I need to take toward my troubles and trials is not only that God is present in them, and is doing something in my life, but that purpose for which God is working is nothing less than my sharing the likeness of His character, and being a partaker of His holiness.
That's an awesome thing.
What is God's motive? What is the direction of the love motive that moves me in discipline? It is that I may be a partaker of His holiness.
I wonder then:
is it true that there really is no authentic sharing of the character of God without suffering? Is there no way for us to become truly holy person, without discipline?

And I guess when it comes right down to it, sometimes trouble comes to us, and I don't understand all about it, but I know that a part of what we need to do is back off,
and pour it out to God, and expose to God the depths of our lives and say, "Lord, what are you trying to say to me? What changes need to take place in me?"

Well, I'm convinced of this, that God has something to say to us, that He is not uninvolved in all of these things that confront us, and that what He is saying to us, what he is confronting us with, is the call to share His holiness, which manifests itself in righteousness as its fruit.
We need to take a different attitude toward our troubles. God is at work in them, is present in them, and what He is doing is conforming us to the image of His Son - to share in His holiness.

Our Father, so often our troubles separate us from Thee. Your discipline makes us sometimes restive and rebellious. Teas us to look to Jesus - to consider Him and so to respond to Thee in our hard times that we will be more Christlike, more holy. Cleanse our hearts of the attitudes that would frustrate Thy healing and unifying work in us.

Thanks to Pastor Andy for giving me this book. In his usually cheerful way, he said "y'all need to read this book!"