Monday, November 19, 2007

Starting To See It Now!

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

More Hero Stuff

“A small band of critical men was once asked to accomplish a great but secret mission …" Ya, I just like that phrase, so I’m going to repeat it a few times … a day). I like it because it reminds me that hero stuff is accomplished by small groups of people all the time, and I imagine that all of them wonder if their investment is really going to be worth it in the end. And they won’t know until The End.

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

Critical Men Pt. 1

“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

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

Lead From the Shadows

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. ( 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.