Wednesday, December 12, 2007
I was up in the foothills two weeks ago, with my two youngest daughters getting a Christmas tree, when I learned once again that one can’t skirt the laws of physics just because of one's equipment. I never studied physics in high school or college, but I was always intrigued by what I assumed a course like that would entail. I could have explored basic physics but instead, chose something I could get an ‘A’ in to balance my underachieving grade record at the time. So, what business do I have even using the word? I’m no scientist! Well, because I just want to tell you a story. You make the spiritual application … or not.
I let my daughters play hooky form school (I know!) and we headed up to the ranger station to get our tree tag (I guess before one kills a deer they must have a tag, so they make it that way for killing a tree too?). Anyway, we got our tag and headed up Forest Service road 70. We soon ran into snow, but I just shifted my wife’s Ford into ‘4 high’ on the fly and proceeded with confidence. When we got into heavier snow I simply stopped, put it into neutral, flipped the switch to ‘4 low’ and again we did well. We stopped often and had a blast jumping in and out looking for just the right tree. The girls brought the camera and took a card-load of pictures of the white covered beauty of God’s creation. And we enjoyed the mountain air, despite the smell of my cigar (I know, that's a tradition too, Rom. 14:3-6). Finally, we all agree on a good tree, killed it, and tied it in the truck (you have to do that with deer too!).
Listening to country music (I know! I have daughters!), the girls took turns asking me questions about driving in the snow. “Well, where I grew up,” said I, “we had snow every year, and you just kinda learn how to stay off the brake pedal and under power so you can gear down. You stay off the bumper of the person in front of you and …” About that time, we shifted back into 4 high and brought the speed up to about 40mph (I know!) because, there was much less snow. While we (they) were singing along with 102.9 because we couldn’t get THE WOLF way up there, we rounded a corner and began to slide toward a deep ditch on my side of the road, into oncoming vehicles if there were any coming up. This always happens fast, except in the mind’s eye! Being quite accustomed to emergency maneuvers, I immediately panicked, took my foot off the gas, and stepped on the brake (Doh!) On the way to the ditch, I’m having a short conversation with myself about basic physics that began with, "Shelley's going to kill me ..." and continued something like this, “Rod, just because you have 4-wheel-drive you can’t overcome the laws of basic physics. You’re going too fast for conditions, you became cocky up the mountain, and you failed at the most basic moves necessary when confronted by the laws of physics. Dude!” Then my inner voice became audible as I cried out to the one who put the laws of physics in place in the beginning: “Oh Jesus Help us ...!" Just at that moment, I realized what I was doing wrong and corrected it, and back on track we were. All was silent but for the sound of my heart beat, as we slowed down. It took a bit for the noise of the radio to return.
Then it hit me: disobey the laws of physics and it can instantly ruin an otherwise delightful day. Drive safely my friends. Like the bread truck says, "The buns you save may be your own.” And always remember, no matter what your equipment is, the laws of physics are always in place.
Monday, November 19, 2007
This season always does and always should cause us to reminisce with warm thoughts of family gatherings, feasts and festivals; smells of cinnamon, and evergreen, tastes like turkey, cranberry, spiced rum and eggnog lattes at Starbucks, and the sounds of familiar Christmas songs playing as we shop at Nordstrom’s or Macy’s. That’s a long sentence. Here’s a shorter one: Thank you God! Yep, we have a lot to be thankful for here in the PNW! At this point in my life, I experience the grace of God through a wife who still loves me, kids who respect me, and a Church family that is like an oasis. They love us and we love them. We are basically healthy, pay the bills, and enjoy many friendships.
But … and this is a really BIG but! Let’s not forget that it's also one of the most depressing times of the year for many. From a world perspective, there are one billion people on the planet who have no job. Almost half the world lives on $2.00 a day or less! Yes, and there are millions who have no home to go to for that feast you and I can’t wait to take for granted.
Closer to home, there are several broken families in my life-space who have to go through the first season without their “other.” Even if it was a difficult relationship before the divorce, loss is loss; it leaves one empty. Now they have to face a season filled with memories, but empty of the familiar people with whom they experienced them. Spouses without spouses anymore; children separated from parents and parents from children. Every holiday season they will have to re-face those debilitating feelings of loss and guilt and bitterness. These people are part of my life at TPC. They have taught me much about God. I love them, and am very thankful.
Others have lost loved ones through disease of trauma. I have friends who lost their son to cancer a short time back. We all prayed, and their son went to be with Jesus anyway. Someone’s mother is dying as I write this. I think of my good friend in Spokane who is recovering from the loss of his beautiful wife of 25 years. They will have to struggle on a whole different level. Now he and his two great kids have to face Thanksgiving and Christmas without her for the first time. They taught me much about living through the worst, and trying to make the best. They taught me not to complain. They have not given up on God either. I love them, and am very thankful.
These people go to my church, as we say, but really they ARE the Church. They make up my spiritual family, my oasis. They arrived through broken relationships. They arrived, through compulsions, addiction and dysfunctions. Through heartache they have persevered. Through struggle, they continue to fall toward God. I’m so proud of them.
I am indebted to the servants who stayed the course through trauma and hard work and made this place last. They came to serve. They helped TPC start and they will make her last. I have watched their sacrifice and their love; seen their fatigue and their tears and their faith. They look and smell like Jesus to me. I love them and am very thankful.
All these and more, make up this oasis. An oasis is a place of respite and refreshment. We are not a perfect oasis. We have our wrinkles to be sure. We’ve made all the mistakes I think an organization can make?! We all have, or are recovering from something. We are a wrinkly oasis of grace and truth. We worship God together every week. We study life and still search for answers. We still experience loss. We try and obey, and struggle to forgive. We work hard to be authentic. That’s hard too. But we have God and each other, and we are learning to be thankful.
I’m on a quest for deeper reflection this year I need to learn to be thankful for something besides all the stuff in my life. These people have helped me begin to see it all. When I sit down for a meal on Thursday, I will be VERY thankful for the God I serve and the people who serve Him and struggle with me.
As I plod along, trip and bump my head, skin my knees, and even throw-up sometimes, I just want to remember to say thank you to God through Jesus Christ my Lord. Thank you for the journey Father, there really is “pain in the offering.” I’m starting to see it now …
Friday, November 09, 2007
So, what do heroes really look like? Does he really have a big red ‘S’ on his chest and wear blue tights? Do her eyes turn trans-like and summon thunder, lightning and tornadoes? Does their name come with a 007 after it? No, though myth may indeed be some form of “flight into reality” (some old dead guy said that), most of us need to learn to embrace reality. Reality is that many of us are called upon to serve others in a way that we get little or no recognition. Hero’s count the cost, but move out anyway. Often they forfeit their dreams, future prospects, or a good career in another more profitable field. Heroism comes at great cost to families, and in the end, true heroes don’t want to be memorialized. They choose to gamble their lives for a cause they deem greater and more important than their own ambitions. But I bet a "thank you" would be nice?
What strikes me today, is when individuals or groups of people band together to use their cumulative time, resources and influence to rescue others in day-to-day battles in the war of life. They clothe poor people. They drive to the Union Gospel Mission on Christmas morning at 4:30am to prep tables, sort silverware and fill large pots of coffee before serving breakfast to homeless men living on the streets of Seattle. Other heroes teach little kids who have messed up parents how to read. Some heroes counsel alcoholics and drug addicts who will likely relapse at least three more times ... someone has to volunteer to help get the first level of relapse out of the way. And some, like the woman my wife and I saw at Starbucks yesterday, work with the mentally disabled. She was playing a colorful put-the-right-shape-in-the-right-hole game on the metal tables outside the coffee shop, when she could have been shopping at Nordstrom’s or just having a quiet ‘Starbucks moment’ to herself. Instead, she was helping a mentally disabled adult woman, who frankly may never be of perceived value to society, find some level of enjoyment or education. That is hero stuff.
Most heroes are never heard from again and real heroes don’t want to be a celebrity. They choose to serve at great personal sacrifice for some great perceived purpose. Heroes miss out on other things because they’re helping others. Some, like a few pastors I know, have sacrificed valuable family time that they can never replace to help people get their stuff together with God. They try their best to to help fix broken people who pay nothing, complain often and then leave without saying thank you. Way to go guys.
Heroes are among us every day and they go unnoticed. Some of these heroes never come back from their battles. Those that do are never the same. No, not many are Navy SEALs, or even close. Few of them ever get a medal, and none of them wear blue tights with a big red S-diamond on the front. Most of these heroes have little training, and wear street clothes rather than BDU’s, (battle dress uniforms) but they step in when someone needs help. They serve where there is a need; for no recognition and little pay - if at all. They often die wondering if it was all worth it. That, my friends, is hero stuff. And it should help us all redefine “normal” forever.
This glass I have raised? It's to those who think their part in the battle of life is small and insignificant. Thank you, to those who never get a “thank you.” Thank you for being a hero. Your reward is coming from the One who really matters.
Monday, November 05, 2007
“A small band of critical men was once asked to accomplish a great but secret mission.” I just like how that sounds. Not quite like the first line in The Hobbit, “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.” It sounds more like the opening line in an anthology of secret missions from WWII. Maybe that’s why I like it so much? It hints of adventurous rescues and courage with disregard for personal safety for some great purpose. Like the Navy SEALs for example.
Navy Seals are reputed to be among the most unique fighting units in modern warfare. Extreme training; ‘they break ya, ‘til they make ya,” get their prize, do their duty and disappear, kind of stuff. “The United States Navy Sea, Air and Land (SEAL) forces are the elite Special Operations Forces (or Special forces) of the U.S. Navy, employed in unconventional warfare, guerrilla warfare, foreign internal defense, direct action, counter-terrorism, specific enemy snatch and grab (kidnapping), specific enemy assassination, hostage rescue, and special reconnaissance operations.” (Thanks http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Navy_SEALs)
My wife’s uncle was a Navy Seal in the Viet Nam era. I never knew him well, but he is really secretive and never stays in one place to this day. He can rebuild engines, fly those cool single winged bush planes, hold his breathe for like a half hour, and shot like Jason Borne. Twenty years after the war was over he still had his Toyota Land Cruiser in his shop, loaded with survival gear and fire arms ready to drive up into the interior of Montana’s Cabinet Mountain range and disappear. I think his kind of service ruined him. Hero stuff always does.
The film industry skews the real truth by embellishment and superhuman portrayals of heroism because that sells DVDs at Blockbuster and Costco. But in the real theater of war everyone’s a hero. No one comes back normal. In fact, war forces all of us to redefine “normal” forever.
With respect to these real Heroes ...
Thursday, November 01, 2007
My friend James wrote a blog a couple weeks ago and as I woke up this morning I found myself thinking about the subject of worship all over again. As an Elder, musician and worship leader, he has the right to comment on this, and insight as well. In his blog he noted the seeming famine of worship songs being written that are singable in the worshiping community. (http://tpcworship.blogspot.com/2007/10/modern-worship.html) We enjoy some very creative music these days and there’s no question that much of it leads me to a place of personal worship. James seemed to imply that there is a critical need for worship leaders who use their gifts to create music that is less about their personal journey, and more about our corporate journey as God's people. Agreed. We need more music written with God in focus and the congregation in mind. We need a revival of the joy of the journey as God’s people, in the style that makes worship easily intelligible to non-musicians - if I understood his point.
My partial response to him at the time was that “worship is a language and if it's not intelligible in the congregation, then it might be just a concert. We need more worship leaders with this desire. Leaders are to lead someone for crying out loud. The criteria can no longer be 'well is feels good to me.' If that's the case, with St. Paul I say, 'you're edifying yourself all right, but the body doesn't understand, and gifts of the Spirit are for the body.' Please, more worship, less concerts!!”
Though that may sound somewhat critical of certain worship leaders out there these days, my point, though not to be critical, was hortatory. Seventeen years ago I entered pastoral ministry “from the choir loft.” I grew up as a musician and vocal leader and learned by doing it wrong in many cases. I did learn that as a worship leader my job is NOT to show my finer vocal points, or gain a following for myself in subtle ways. That is to rob God of His rightful attention. My job before God was and is to lead His people to focus on Him; to love him and respond to His grace, mercy and provision in the language of worship - in community. Not that I’ve got this down whatsoever(!) but John the Immerser sure had it right: “I must decrease and He must increase.” This is to be the vision and high calling of every worship leader.
We’ve got to reclaim the importance of corporate worship in our individualistic society. Biblical Christianity is to be a "team sport." God is the only true Superstar. Therefore, we need to recapture the awesome responsibility as leaders – though we may be actually in the front – to lead from the shadows and take others with us in concert of praise when we gather.
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
I miss my son. He’s in the Air Force stationed on the East coast … for now. He always wanted to make a difference in people’s lives, but fell prey to the disease of many young people. See if you recognize these symptoms: new minimum wage job every three months, way too much Xbox, waaaaay too much junk food, (!) way too much Abercrombie, too many girlfriends, and not enough discipline. The high school environment and pressure didn't help.
Two years ago he announced his interest in the Air Force, went through all the pre-signup details, and enlisted for six years. I was hoping for less. Looking back, it was the best decision of his life, and he made it by himself. It caused him to mature quickly, regain his confidence and prove to himself he could do whatever he needed to do. He learned a new and healthy respect for authority, decency, and decorum. He even learned how to fold his underwear and socks! And his vision was renewed to protect and rescue; to make a lasting difference. I’ve always been proud because he belongs to me. But now I’m proud in a respectful way, different than I’ve ever experienced.
He’s an E.O.D. technician - Explosive Ordinance Disposal. His job is to go wherever he’s told, and find and dispose of explosive devices, either by blowing them up or disarming them. I know! I said that too, “Why not air traffic control or some other area for which you qualified.” But he’s a young man who wants to give his life for something rather than die for nothing. Now he’s trained long, qualified, certified, and tested all over again. He’s been on some VIP missions involving some really important VIP’s that I’m not supposed to know about. Now he’s up for deployment to who-knows-where soon. We’ll know when he knows, if he can tell us. That’s all I can tell you, top secret stuff, you know.
Anyway, I miss him badly. We talk as often as possible, but it’s very surreal; strange how fast he made his choice, grew up, moved away and will likely never actually live in our area again. I’m not ready to admit that, but this is all evidence of answered prayer throughout the years of raising him. He was always very headstrong, still is, but regained respect for my wife and I after the terrible seventeen’s (like the terrible two’s but much, much more risky!)
To get to the end of this rope, I’m so thankful for having him in my home; privileged to watch him grow up and excited to see how God will continue to use him, but I miss him lots. Sometimes I come home late and half expect to see him in the kitchen pouring himself a bowl of cereal at eleven-thirty PM. Sometimes I think he’s going to be watching TV in our livingroom on a Saturday, or find him riding his motorcycle up next to mine and his two brothers.
He’s my oldest son and the first out of my home. Kids grow up. Things change. I’m still the father, but no longer parenting. Things equalize. Roles evolve. Still the dad, now we're building a friendship. I pray for him different too though, especially in light of the current state of world affairs and his dangerous occupation. Though he still calls me for wisdom, I now respect him as a man, and view him with a different kind of respect. I'm an adviser when I'm invited, and the silent prayer warrior for my warrior son.
Whew! Four more to go … help me God!
Friday, October 19, 2007
Transition sucks. I’m in it and I don’t like it ... that phase in the birth process right before the “push” where every part of the mother’s body is preparing to bring little Suzy into the world - but it’s not fun! I was there when Shelley gave birth to my kids and transition sucked for her! It wasn't fun for the kids either. Heads all pointy, (it hurts when a human head is being squeezed by one the strongest muscle groups in the human body!), goop all over them, feeling cold for the first time, struggling for breath … ya, no fun. Now, looking at my awesome kids, I’m thankful for transition.
I'm in transition – have been for the last three years or so. I know because I feel the tension – not only squeezing my head, but that too! Sometimes I feel cold and gooey, and I struggle to breathe. (Wonder what my head will look like when I’m through this particular ‘muscle group?’ It freakin’ hurts!) The tension probably exists because of the distance between what I want and what is right. I can’t know until it’s over. Either I embrace it and try to squeeze every once of learning from it (oh that’s easy!). Or I continue to resist it and let it squeeze the hell out of me! Wait, maybe that’s the purpose of transition. Anyway, resisting is like running from the Borg.
I need certain things to happen; stuff relating to life, my concept of order, ministry realignment; resolution for some of my friends, for my staff, and stuff for my kids. Then there’s the stuff I don’t want, like facing the death of my dreams, feeling the shock of what greatness really is (now that's cold!) and beginning to realize the kind of world my kids are inheriting - not handling that well either. I don’t always get what I want, and sometimes I get what I really don’t want! That blows too, or so it seems. I’ll let you know soon as I know.
In transition right now? How's your head feel? I’m just observing, and I have little wisdom, but I think we should probably all just hang on and learn to manage the tension. Maybe something will be born; caused to incubate in our own spirit, brought to life because we struggled with it - and against it (!) - but birth only happens after transition, right?.
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
I was sitting in my Starbucks this morning, (I know strange huh?). So in walks a homeless guy, presumably in his early 40’s, though they typically look older than they really are. He lumbers over next to one of those small round tables sets his bag down in the corner and begins fumbling with the stuff in his pocket. He smells the aroma of the coffee store as He looks for change. Out comes some rolled up papers, a wrapper, and a crumpled up dollar bill. He sits down, then stands up and puts it all back into his pocket and heads for the bar. He comes back with nothing – no coffee. He goes to the front door and looks out as if he’s looking for someone. Then he picks up his white plastic bag, goes into the rest room, comes back out and heads to the door. As he walks past a crowd of people he doesn’t know, he waves a little – to look like he knew someone (?) or to be polite, and sauntered out the door leaving me there at my own little round table.
There I sat with my coffee, my little zippered bag, and my journal on the desk in front of me asking God what I’m seeing. I was feeling guilty because I should have got up and offered to buy him an Americano; feeling numb because the homeless are all too frequent these days, and feeling serious, compassion overload for this guy and others like him so that my heart freezes.
I realized that he and I were not as much different as society has made us (comfortably) think. With no disrespect or judgment about why he was in his plight, or if he was “all there,” in our human experience maybe things are really quite relative. Though we’re in different strata of society, something about which I really had no choice, he had a bag, and I had a bag – of things meaningful, necessary and transitory. I carry a backpack with a few books, my lighter, a few pens and my iPod. He carried a bag with maybe an extra shirt, a jacket, an old newspaper, some matches, a little flask of cheep wine, and a list of names and numbers; maybe even a map back home, if he remembered where that used to be or even cared.
We both recognize the levels, and that we’re always in ‘mixed company.’ Both of us want to fit in, and very often don’t. He in some circle - any circle - and me in another circle that I perceive as better than my own. We both wave at people we don’t know sometimes. He felt alone in the crowd, but did his best not to look like it. I sometimes feel the same. We both want to be known. He walked in a world where he went largely unnoticed, and did his best to act normal. I live in a world where many know me, but I don’t know what normal is anymore.
Oh sure, I have more stuff, which makes me no more important than him. I just have more to manage, more to repair and more to throw away. I have more access, more resources, and more influence. Or do I? I always evaluate things from my level of The Matrix, and he from his. He wants more, I want more. He’s attached to his stuff, and I to mine. He has insecurities and I have mine. He wants to feel, and I want to feel. He looks for meaning, and I look for significance. Like chasing the wind, right?
The strangest things happened that very moment. Starbucks Corp. sent a camera team in to the store to capture the action and interview some of the partners. I noticed all the baristas – save two - posture immediately to get in the path of the lens! ‘That’s it,’ says I: no matter who we are or into which strata of society we fit or don’t, or perceive we belong, or don’t - we ALL want to be in the lens. We all want to be noticed. We all want a crowd, and perceive that another crowd might be better than the one we now occupy. We really are alike after all.
Thursday, March 08, 2007
Thursday, March 01, 2007
Wednesday, February 07, 2007
Tuesday, February 06, 2007
Tuesday, January 30, 2007
I’m a pastor, a guy, a father, a husband, a friend, a person, an American…and a jerk. I have a confession to make: I don’t love people like Jesus did, and like I should as a follower of Jesus. I say I love Jesus, but I haven’t loved you. I’m so terribly ashamed. I don’t expect you to just be happy now, but I have to get this right, with you and with God. I repent. And seek your forgiveness.
To those of you who want to have nothing to do with Jesus, and as well, to those would like to understand more about His life and His purpose, but have not asked, and have now lost interest because of the mess the Church has made the last 2000 years, I apologize for me and mine.
You may not choose to follow Jesus Christ or call Him Lord. You may have no official connection to a church. You may not even know why you’re reading this. You may have no interest at all in Jesus. You may even hate Him. That’s Ok. That could be partly because of “us” so please hear me: I apologize to you for a Church that seems as if she could care less whether you meet the Savior of the world or not. I apologize for a Church that seems not to care if you go to the heaven we preach or the hell we avoid. Sometimes we act like we’d like you to go to hell. We should be ashamed. I am. And I apologize.
I apologize for our self-centeredness and wrong-focus. We’ve told you to obey the commandments of God without the God within to show you the way and to empower you. We’ve tried to make you sing our horribly outdated music, and told you that yours sucked because it was about your life. Or worse, told you it was from Hell. And then we copied some of it and made lots of money! What greed and short-sightedness! I apologize.
When you visited us we’ve told you to give money for our grand building programs, when people in our cities were starving. We’ve tried to make you listen to long and boring sermons, as if you even knew what the Hell we were talking about! We’ve tried to make you throw away your records, your CDs, your movies, and your friends – all as if in doing these things you would be pleasing to Jesus – while all the while teaching that God is not a God to be appeased by our human effort! “For by grace we our saved...” Which is true, but we have none it seems. What hypocrisy. We have sinned against God and against you. Please forgive us.
I apologize for our two-faces. When you’re addicted we call it alcoholism, drug abuse, or substance abuse. When we overindulge, we call it recovery, or a minor set-back, or worse: liberty. For this I apologize. We’ve placed more importance on our comfort than on your eternity, and on our prosperity, than on your need for love and kindness and deliverance from the things you hate, but can’t deny for some reason. We’ve excluded you from our lives and from our fellowship and from our activities because we’ve not wanted to soil ourselves. We have been wrong – dead wrong. And I apologize for me and my family, for me and my church, and for me and my ancestors in the Church. We were wrong, very wrong, and we repent.
My Jesus would have never treated you like this. He would have eaten with you, sat and talked with you, even skipped church to hang with you. He would have loved your simple attempts to be human. He would have come to your Superbowl parties and your birthday parties and your graduation ceremonies. He would have wept at your pain, touched your hurts, been patient with your habits, eaten at your tables. He would have loved you so much that you would have loved Him in return, I know you would have. But now you’re confused and mad. I understand. I’m afraid we – the Church – have painted a very poor resemblance to the real Jesus. I’m so sorry for our wrong portrayal of our Master. I repent to Him and apologize to you.
You see, I’ve forgotten that people touch the heart of Jesus. Whatever touches the heart of Jesus should get my attention and prompt me to action. His passion is to be my passion. His mission is to be my mission. And He loves people – all shapes and sizes, all colors and languages. With His help, I will clean up my act. I will love you. I hope you can see the real Jesus in me someday soon.
Tuesday, January 09, 2007