Monday, June 15, 2009

Just Missing It?

For most of us, life is a beautiful journey that goes largely unnoticed. This is about how I missed beauty because of a small sample of brokenness common to our planet. Somehow, we westerners tend to just miss it when beauty and blessing are right before us. See if you can find yourself in the story:

For my wife, spring and summer are all about her flower garden. For me, gardening is all about my wife. So a few weeks back, when she asked me to help her weed her garden, I basically said, "No thank you, that would be your hobby, not mine." My motorcycle needed cleaning! So, anyway ... I went out immediately and began to clear this stuff called Morning Glory from a smallish square of earth. (What does that tell you about family order?!) When we finished literally digging the whole section down about a foot, we planted several other non-weed like plants and it really did look nice. But know this: the person that gave that creeping nasty weed the name “Morning Glory,” must have been the same guy that named Greenland and Iceland! No one wanted to go to Iceland because it sounded like a frozen wasteland, so the other sailors went to Greenland and left beautiful Iceland to the smart Norsemen! Morning Glory is a hideously deceptive name that makes us think beauty when really it’s an unholy trick!

Some smart person named that weed “Morning Glory” so that it would give him an advantage over the other farmers on the block. The others would hear its beautiful name, admire its little blossoms, and let it grow. All the while those dirty “namers” planted their veggies and got to market before the rest of ‘em! There is nothing glorious about Morning Glory! This is not a flower at all! It’s an insidious vine with a take-over plan! Trying to kill that weed proves that toil and the sweat of your brow deal! Speaking of gardens, I remember a famous one where all this trouble originated. This weed is straight from Hell! The Devil disguises himself like and angel and this weed like a flower. Dig all the way to the root and you haven’t got the root. When it’s pulled out or cut off it still flourishes. It actually seems to like being attacked and grows back faster. Chasing it down into the earth several feet you think it’s finally eradicated, but NO! When one finds those little white root feelers they snap off easily and produce a hundred more! The very next day it’s sprung new shoots and is taking over again. That nasty thing is freaky creepy!

Wednesday morning my wife didn’t have to work so I let her sleep in a bit, took the girls to school and returned to make a cup of coffee. I got back to a quiet house, took my coffee and sat out in the garden on our little bench. I tried to quiet myself, breath and still my stress for a moment before I left of for the office. There I was, sitting in a former battle ground, feeling some level of satisfaction and enjoying the real beauty. So this is what gardening is about, says I? It was all lush green with splashes of color everywhere! Roses were exploding with of blooms. There were those yellow deals, some pink and red flowery things with tight blossoms, that creeping green carpet like ground cover, some of that spiky grass that grows at Ocean Shores, and three squatty green bushes with purple spikes beginning to poke out, (I told you gardening wasn’t my hobby!). I could actually see the fish pond and the hundreds of blue berry blossoms. The corn is way past “knee-high-by-the-4th-of-July,” And the grape vines actually looked like they could produce one day soon. I’m thinking, This is sweet. I like it. Let’s do this again!

It was really restful. This is very cool. Thank you God, I said out loud. And then I spotted it. I looked down and there it was, creeping out from under the stepping stones two feet away. Just as I felt my pulse slowing and my blood actually beginning to cool in my veins, there were those damnable little creeping Morning Glory monsters growing again right from where we’d dug down several hundred feet to strangle them one week before! Now I’m not just saying this for blog-effect, I honestly became physically irritated and then saddened. I lost the benefit of beauty. I quickly forgot the glimpse of glory that slowed my blood pressure and momentarily rested my busy brain.

It wasn’t but thirty seconds between rest and restlessness! A sigh escaped and I hung my head staring into my tepid coffee. Why is it so branded into our human psyche to just miss it? Then, I remembered that other Garden long ago and wondered Why God? The blessing was right before them and they focused on the one thing they were told to avoid. Those earliest ancestors were placed in the most beautiful garden imaginable. And with NO WEEDS! But they still missed it. How God must have sighed a huge holy sigh when they did what He knew they would do. They just missed it. They traded the beauty before them, for the death that would follow them all the way to us. After that eternal tragedy, they spent the rest of their long lives fighting weeds and missing the enjoyment of the life of God left around them. Now it’s my tendency to spend my time sitting in my lovely little garden, with my coffee, healthy kids, my bills paid, a great job, a rock-star wife, and a little congregation of the sweetest, sincerely authentic people I’ve ever been within, and I’m pissed at weeds ... I just missed it.

Damn weeds! Everyone a distractions to beauty! Isn’t this our human condition? We tend always to miss blessing and beauty because of a few pesky, even monstrous but momentary, little weed-like issues that creep in under the stepping stones along our path. It’s easy to miss the privilege of walking until we see the lady in a wheel chair rolling through the cross walk to get across before the light changes. Why is it so easy to cuss about our kids for their immaturity and childishness, rather than see the intricate design of God woven into each? It’s too easy to hate our boss rather than be thankful for a job. We naturally moan about being busy until we find someone that's truly lonely. It’s too easy to criticize the Barista and lose the enjoyment of that fresh hot cup of Verona. It's easier to grouse about having to pull weeds than to focus on the beauty of the garden around us, isn’t it?

Just like killing weeds blinds us from the beauty of our gardens, life’s little troubles tend to take our attention captive. We still miss the beauty of the garden. But the solution is simpler than we think. Give thanks often. Sit in your little garden, whatever it may be, and breathe. And rest. Enjoy a kiss, or the touch of someone who loves you no matter what. Take a nap in the sun. Notice the color of your daughter’s eyes! Hug your sons! Don’t just think stuff, do stuff! Open your eyes; leave the thoughts about weeds behind - unimportant compared to the beauty of rest and the prize of a moment of peace – and live longer.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Old Lessons, New Time.

As the one who sort of invented (or stole from an obscure source) the phrase ‘lifebites’ one might think I’ve learned how to deal with those biting circumstances? Nope, reality bites! I’m still learning and none too patient at it! Over time all of us are forced to face adversity, but adversity can’t force us to learn. It does, however, force us to choose.

We are facing war, a world in turmoil, transition in governments and financial markets, family issues and the lonely, personal struggles that these pressures exacerbate in all of us. The ripple affect of our crumbling economy has touched all of us in some way. Two members of my own family are out of work. Three close friends have either lost their jobs or had their hours cut in half. Being in the Church world, I hear of the struggles many congregations are facing all over the state. Budgets slashed and staff sizes greatly reduced. Those who are left are now being asked to do more for the same pay or less. That’s just in my world. Last week, Chrysler notified 789 dealers that they would not have their dealer agreements renewed. General Motors proposes to close about 1100 of their dealers this week!

I know you could share similar stories. What to do? How are we to face these realities, and more to the point, what does adversity teach us? Actually, better put, what does adversity force upon us? What I have discovered is of course not a discovery at all. In adversity, we learn old lessons for new times.

1. Adversity forces us to focus. Instead of concentrating on all kinds of non-essentials and ancillary issues, adversity tends to draw my focus to necessities, like relationships, people, family, faith, serving, rest and hard work.

2. Adversity forces the discovery of new solutions instead of putting up with the same old ones. Responding to adversity often proves that people can be more creative when they have to do so. History is replete with examples of how new products were developed by “mistake.” Adversity is the inventor behind many new techniques and products.

3. Adversity forces new alliances. Mergers, acquisitions and new market place niches are exposed by the forces of adversity. New opportunities pop up for the next entrepreneur, inventor, or leader.

4. Adversity forces the discovery of hidden or underutilized talent. Every sports franchise has this opportunity when their superstar athlete develops tendinitis or blows up his knee. Someone who was warming the bench takes the team to the Superbowl.

5. Adversity breaks old habits and tired traditions. Old habits and tired traditions come from the lack of challenge to our current ways of doing things. Adversity makes me accountable for how I do what I do, and why I do what I do all over again!

6. Adversity forces greater accuracy. When bullets are less expensive people waste more ammo! Now, when ammo is expensive, we are forced to shoot less, aim more carefully! In target sports, as in life, we tend to get more accurate when the ‘cost’ of our actions increases.

7. Adversity forces new efficiencies. When we have to do better, we can do better. Adversity forces us to pay attention to the interplay between effectiveness and efficiency. When trouble comes, and costs increase, new levels of quality or performance are required. If effectiveness is doing the job well, then efficiency is doing the job with less waste and friction. Adversity brings these cousins together again.

8.Adversity increases resilience and reduces the whining! Those who endured the years of WWII learned that adversity made them sterner stuff. World wide adversity and carnage, though wicked and far reaching, created more resilient people who were willing to sacrifice, held simple things in high esteem again, and stopped complaining because it just made matters worse! People knew they were blessed if they were alive, had food, a roof and family or a few true friends, they had all they needed.

9.Finally, adversity forces believers to face weak faith. This is the big one for me. To be frank, adversity sucks! It's oftentimes just destructive. In an imperfect world, with greedy people, scared people, broken people and broken systems – things are going to break. Things are going to erode, leading one to think that a bad end is the only end we can expect. Greed and sin wreak havoc on humanity.

So what now? All of the above are old lessens for new times. Is life not ultimately a battle? Especially for the believer, is adversity not a cosmic test of enormous proportions between God and Satan that will finally prove to any and all, that the True One will hold on to His own? In the end will it not be adversity that proves the faithful will find strength in their Creator to persevere? One day God will have all the evidence needed for the courts of Heaven to prove once and for all that the Righteous One is I AM!

The Bible meets that challenge in simple, clear language: “...when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. 3 For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. 4 So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.” James 1:2-4

Adversity can be the tool of God to help us clean up spiritual waste. It can teach us to move our faith back into first position. Isn't our handling of adversity really a question of reliance? Doesn't adversity show us at whose feet our trust really lays? Doesn't adversity realign us in prayer with the God of heaven, by showing us that we need solutions from His heaven? Can't adversity renew the importance of the relationships and reinstate the importance of one-another care? One of my old friends (ironically, who is no longer part of my community because of adversity!) used to say, when someone acknowledged the need for prayer, “Has it really come to that?" Today, as I acknowledge the presence of adversity that tests my own faith, I'm confronted with a to similar question: "Trust God completely? Has it truly come to that?!"

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

It's the Village

I'm stoked about our new website coming soon, but more so what it contains. In it we have done our best to begin to explain our emerging culture at TurningPoint. Though this is newly stated, it has been under development from the time of our birth. It is based on the relational/ incarnational model we see in our Master Jesus who adopted 12 men to spend the remainder of His earthly life with, into whom He poured His life, and then through whom He poured His message of grace, mercy, forgiveness and reconciliation; revolutioinary concepts that challenge every other philosophy and human inclination about what really matters. We call it Village Life.

In that pattern, we are a Tribe made up of many Villages. The Village is the smallest but most important unit of our ministry model. Village life is where we form our deepest bonds with one another in the Body. Oasis is what we call our largest gathering on Sunday mornings when all the Villages come together as a Tribe.

Describing how the Village model works and how it differs from a typical small group model is difficult because some of the small differences make the biggest impact. Picture a fire pit around which everyone in the village met, warmed their hands, told stories, and ate a meal together. Not only is the common fire a place where people are warmed and fed, but the common fire of village life was also the place where people processed life and made decisions based on the input of those who would be with them as those decisions worked their way out in community.

Closer to our century, picture the last camping trip with your best friends and how included you felt as you sat around the campfire and talked way into the night. In terms of American business protocol, you accomplished “nothing.” But in terms of depth of spirit and personhood you accomplished what was most important. If you picture that, you’re beginning to see the picture from our perspective. If you have not experienced that type of community since high school, you need a village.

Imagine if everyone was really connected to people who loved them, played and prayed with them, and then took that shared life experience into the streets of our cities, stores, community activity centers, gun shops, motorcycle showrooms, garage sales, pubs and coffee shops. Our world would change! This is our dream.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Last month, a friend of mine left an invitation on my Facebook page. He sent me and twenty-four others, a list of random things about himself. Then he asked us to do the same in return. Honestly, I don’t usually participate in stuff like this, but this intrigued me because even though I know this friend pretty well, there were several things on his list that I didn’t know. The cool thing was that he started some dialogue between people who call themselves friends. Isn’t this is the reason millions of people join these kinds of online communities in the first place? They want to be known?

Wise people know that life really isn't random at all. Like the stones pictured above, in God's plan our random things fit together like He had a plan in the first place. And of course He did. Each random stone you share with others tells something important about you and makes up the picture that goes by your name!

Being known necessitates some level of self-disclosure. We do like to be in control of what people know about us and this little exercise allows for that. So at the end of the day I sent him and twenty-four friends my list of random stones. To spread the issue further I put it in Blog form. What random stones would you disclose about yourself that would allow your friends to know you better? I'm asking, so I'll throw the first stones ...

25 Random Stones

1.I have lived in Washington twice now.
2.I’ve been married for 26 years; harder but more valuable than anyone told me.
3.I am trying to release 3 young male adults into the wild and let go!
4.Currently, my favorite beer is Buttface Amber Ale.
5.My favorite place to meet friends is The Ram at Kent Station.
6.I ride my M109 whenever I don’t get soaked on the way, and sometimes when I do!
7.I only like marsh mellows when they’re squished between two pieces of chocolate.
8.I cried once last year.
9.I’m going to balance #s 7 and 8 with #s 10 and 11.
10.I just bought a new Springfield XD(m) and got my concealed pistol license.
11.I have 15 friends that shoot pistols; one son that blows stuff up professionally, one with a black belt that wants to be a cop and another training to be a secret agent!
12.#7 sounds like a girl … no offense Ladies … none taken I’m sure.
13.I’m grateful to God for a bunch of cool friends including my brother that kept me from going insane the last 4 years!
14.I read Cigar Aficionado for another diversion.
15.My wife and I are walking 40 mins three times a week (We missed last week, doh!)
16.I’m almost 50. I used to be able to do stuff.
17.One of my goals is to be able to water ski ‘til I’m eighty …
18.Larry the Cable Guy still makes me laugh uncontrollably (like you’re laughing now about #17).
19.My dog is cool, but He’s also getting old and grumpy.
20.My parents pray like warriors! I’m still learning to hold the weapon ...
21.I hope to spend the month of July in Belgium. Yes, really.
22.Someday I will live on the side of a mountain and pick legal mushrooms.
23.Pastoral ministry has been harder than everyone said it would be, except my dad.
24.God’s transforming grace in Christ still blows me away every day!!
25.Worshiping Him still takes my breath away.

Your turn …

Tuesday, January 13, 2009


As I sit here looking out the window at yet another rotation of the earth around the sun, I realize that I’m mid-way through another week closer to the end of my life! Dark thoughts? Not at all. My oldest daughter just turned eighteen yesterday, and my third son will turn twenty-one at the end of the month. That’s exciting and monumental. But I’ve got to admit, watching my kids race through their birthdays forces me to think more about this transitory life. How speedily it expires! That leads me to wonder how my life fits into the ebbing first decade of a new millennium.

My cousin’s grandfather died last week, after over ninety years on the planet (that’s a ripe old age!). He worked hard and served his purpose and then fell into eternity. He was the last of the Libby brothers. All four of them are gone. His brother, my grandfather, died 12 years ago after a wonderful and difficult life. He too left his fingerprints on us in unique ways and then breathed his last.

I never knew my paternal grandfather. He died at age forty-eight. My dad beat prostate cancer five years ago and survived heart surgery in the last year. He's doing well now. My uncle appears to be in the final stages of life after a 14 year battle with cancer. His outlook is impeccable, his attitude is incredible. He’s an honorable man, but he’s prepared to leave now. His ‘up-look’ has well conditioned his outlook. I’m paying attention. I have two brothers, and the three of us have six sons between us. Sooner than we all expect, we will leave the planet and our sons will watch. And then sooner than they think, our sons will leave the planet and their sons will watch ... and the cycle continues. I’m not depressed, morbid or even anxious. I’m just trying to think deeper than the cigar I enjoyed last night.

I’m intrigued about how our culture has taught itself to avoid the daily collision with the inevitability of death. We watch it on TV every day. We role-play sequences of death on our Xbox. We observe death through the safety glasses of multiple news sources, but somehow we’ve learned to anesthetize ourselves from the reality that it will happen to us – death that is, and sooner than we think. Other cultures and people in earlier times tended to keep better track of the transitory nature of life. They did it by recording the generations and tracking the way previous generations impacted the current ones. They made long lists of who birthed whom, and who married whom, and then who came after that. There must have been a reason for that, right?

In general it seems that we’ve become experts at distraction and avoidance. We keep busy, we play more; we eat and drink more; avoidance? Distraction? We’ve invented multiple methods to lose ourselves in Matrix-like fantasies offered by various entertainment choices. Now I’m not against all of these things, inventing, producing, conquering and recreation are all good gifts to be sure. But here’s the deal: business, distraction and avoidance certainly reduce the opportunities for us to think deeply about the meaningful minutes that blow by us like a bullet train.

That’s my morning ramble over coffee. How about you? Do you think about stuff other than your neighbor who pissed you off, or the lady who took your parking place, or how your job sucks, or how bored you are, or how you’re going to pay your bills this year, or who you’re going to try and get with this weekend, or how you hope to medicate yourself, or (fill in the blank __________)? Have you given thought of your life? Do you think about those who’ve gone before you and the lessons they learned and projected to those who watch closely? No, not what your work requires, not what you have to do in the yard this weekend, or where your kids will go to college, or the new ‘whatever’ you think you need, or what you will do for a distraction when you’re bored with business, or agitated to avoidance. Do you ever think about your contribution to the swirl of humanity? Do you ever think that you were NOT an accidental freak of nature, wandering aimlessly as a microscopic piece of the puzzle of the universe that happens to be occupying a certain piece of real estate, unconnected to anything before or after? Do you? Well do you?

Challenge: I have no power to change how the generations emerge or when they expire, but I have the power to slow down, to think more, to look backwards and to let my ‘up-look’ adjust my outlook today. And so can you.