Thursday, December 25, 2008

A Wonderful Christmas

So, that is our kitchen floor about 20 minutes after we finished dinner on Christmas Eve.

A wonderful meal, wonderful conversation, a fire in the fireplace, and watching It's A Wonderful Life. Then "boom," followed by a sound like a fire hose. Like the guy in The Night Before Christmas who" rose from his bed to se what was the matter, " (when he like us heard such a clatter) we ran to the kitchen to see a massive incoming tide from underneath the sink as pipes which had chosen this night to pop were quickly evacuating large quantities of water under great pressure. Every towel in the house was brought into action before the water soaked into the edges of our floor and underneath. Water off, everything soaked, then washing machine broke.

And you know what? It was a wonderful Christmas. We bought less, we worshiped more, we made gifts we helped the poor.

Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Pete Has Got It Going On

So, a month or so I wrote a bit about the election - promising that the political thing will not become a habit here. Likewise, today a story about Pete Carroll, head football coach at USC - not a change in direction, but a great video with some great insights. Enjoy
Watch CBS Videos Online

Thursday, November 27, 2008

The Secret of Thanksgiving

I love Thanksgiving. It has so many of the things that I enjoy: family, food and football (in no particular order). I love Thanksgiving. That is, I love the holiday we call Thanksgiving. But removed from the context as the gateway of the Christmas season what about the word Thanksgiving.

These past couple of weeks I have been thinking about that word, about what it means and about what it would look like to possess a heart of thanksgiving that is not dependent upon the things that are going well in your life -- or the things that are going bad. I love what the apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the church in Philippi. He wrote to them from prison and said:

I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things dthrough him who strengthens me.

I want to be content in all circumstances -- don't you? Wouldn't that be the secret of thanksgiving -- in all circumstances. And Paul had what we'd call street cred. I mean what is the worst thing that has happened to you? Paul lived with a physical disability, was shipwrecked not once, but 3 times -- floating in the open ocean for who knows how long, beaten with whips embedded with bone, glass and rock on multiple occasions, and thrown into jail. And he was content. How? Because he did not depend on the many good things and good times in his life for his sense of contentment, and he didn't let the many bad things in his life rob his contentment.

Instead, Jesus was his contentment.

Jesus as your contentment. That is the secret of thanksgiving -- in all circumstances.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

The Hope You Can Believe In

Maybe I'm being too critical, maybe I'm just getting old.

Maybe I'm right.

I stopped listening to Christian Talk Radio on November 9, 2000. I remember the moment, driving home from work listening to caller after caller talking about George Bush's election the day before and how their hope for America -- and even a deeper hope -- had been restored. There was hope again in Christian America.

Fast forward almost 8 years. I have Christian friends who believe that if Obama wins, all hope for the Church, our faith, our nation -- and you'd think our very lives is at stake. I have other Christian friends who believe that if McCain wins, all hope for the Church, our faith, our nation -- and you'd think our very lives is at stake. Someone has to be right, someone has to be wrong. Or, just maybe, both are wrong.

I stopped listening to Christian Radio 8 years ago not because I was happy or sad that W had won, but because so many Christians seemed to be saying their hope was based -- at least to some degree on the outcome. Now, I see that again -- with both candidates.

I think it is important to vote. It is important to get involved in issues, to work for whichever candidate you favor. I think it is ok to believe that one candidate is a fool or a liar, dangerous or disconnected -- and that the guy you want win is none of those things. But, and here is my point: He is not your hope. If he is, take a hard, hard look in the mirror, because he shouldn't be.

Get involved, make a difference, vote. Regardless of the outcome, stay involved. But, remember that your hope -- and the hope for the world -- is found only real hope if it is placed in a guy who isn't even on the ballot, and would in fact, decline if asked, to run.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Things We Can't Control

Let me start out by saying that this is not a post about global warming. Rather it is a point about our fear of being out of control. Ok, disclaimer made, post begins:

So, I was reading yesterday and came across a line about global warming taking place on Mars at the same rate as on Earth. The conclusion -- this is horrible, in fact the author used the word "extremely scary." Extremely scary he posits because if global warming is taking place on Mars at the same rate as Earth, than maybe people are not primarily responsible. And, he concludes, if we are not responsible, what hope can we have to fix it?

Scary? Maybe. Sure.

But, I think there is something deeper going on behind what the author wrote, deeper, and into the human soul; the fear that comes from the inability to control. If God is not in control, and we are not in control, then, well, we are on the preverbal roller coaster run out of control, and the chances of a good ending . . . not so much. But, what if God is in control? Well, then a whole new can of worms is opened up, a whole can of worms that call us to some sort of response -- acknowledgement, acceptance, denial rejection, something. And if acknowledgment and acceptance, what then?

Acknowledgment and acceptance of God's control -- or from the other side of things, our lack their of -- is not a call toward passivity or a deterministic fatalism, but a call to action. If God is in control, the opportunities are endless. If God is in control, the freedom is towering. Imagine, the creator of the universe, the holder of all power and authority, the sustainer of all life (that is the way the bible puts it and to me it sounds like a lot of control that is not in my hand) wanting to partner with you in his redemptive work here on Earth. Because he does.

God's plan throughout the bible is a plan of redemption -- taking the messy, broken, warming, death filled, poverty ridden, disease infested planet and being his agents of hope and redemption -- not alone, but partnering with God, partnering with the one who actually can control the outcome.

Maybe me not being in control is not so scary after all.

Monday, September 15, 2008

A Lost Generation

One of my great sadnesses is the great many young people who grew up in good churches that no longer consider themselves Christians. Many of them didn't fit in the church that they were in for very valid reasons, yet no one was around to show them that many of their complaints were actually biblical and good. Yet they saw a problem with an institution and pegged it as a problem with Jesus.

As sad as that is, I follow a God of hope and believe that within this group of ex-Christians live many of the future leaders of an authentic and biblical church that faithfully follows Jesus. Take a minute to watch as I explain why it is that I do what I do in the ministry God has given me.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Harder for a Rich Man To Get Into Heaven?

Jesus knew that when we have riches, we inevitably tend to hope in our riches rather than him -- and then we become poor indeed.

So, I'm watching John McCain be interviewed by Rick Warren. In a room filled with christians, in a a church that is one of the biggest in the world, this was McCain phrase drew the loudest applause. "I don't want to take money away from the rich, I want everybody to be rich." This is not a political post, but a post on the state of the many many churches, many many Christians. I think the response would be the same the statement been made in a great many of our churches.

So what's the big deal? My answer, it just made me sad. Not the answer, but the level of applause in a church to that line. It is not an evil line, but the loud cheering response makes me sad.

"I want everybody to be rich." -- Thunderous applause, In a room filled with Christians, people whose Lord, Jesus, would might say if he were there what he said when he was with his disciples, "It is very unlikely that a rich man will follow me."
And you know what? I don't think that Jesus' line would get the kind of applause that John McCain's did. I just don't. Do the people who applaud know that they could just as easily be applauding the line "I want it harder for people to come to Christ."

I know that's not what he said, I know the crowd would not cheer if he said that. But, I also know that the Church in the west is often very very blind to how the idolatry of wealth has caused us not only to lose our ability to see the poor, but also has caused us to lose our ability to hear what Jesus has to say.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Blowing Somebody To Hell Without A Second Thought

Just got back from spending time with Kelly's relatives up in Oregon. They are Mennonite, but grew up Amish -- talk about interesting stories, not to mention the good food; I'd need a barn raising to burn off all the calories I ate.

Anyway, I had an interesting conversation with 81 year old Aunt Ida. She was explaining how sad she was when her son joined the army years ago, how it was so heartbreaking. As our conversation continued she said something that stuck with me. She told me she asked her son how he could even consider "shooting somebody and sending them to hell."

Interesting. I had never thought of it that way.

Now, theological nuances and pondering aside (and this is not a post about Iraq or the army or war in general) but, it bothered me that I never even though of that before. And so I had to ask myself why? Why had I never thought about that? My conclusion: I am perhaps more inundated by individualism and pragmatism than Jesus -- and I don't think I'm alone. I mean, how many Christians in America or elsewhere would think about the actions they would take in war or self defense first in terms of the effect that they might have on the ability of the person at the other end of their actions being able to choose to follow Jesus.

Let me get real practical. If a person was about to kill one of my children and I had a gun, I would blow them straight to hell without a second thought. I wonder if Jesus were living my life, faced with the same situation, if he would do the same thing. I don't think he would. I know he would grieve for the person, but I also think he might not shoot. And then what?

This is a post with questions and without answers. I'd still blow the bastard away, so don't mess with my kids.

I'm troubled by these questions -- at least that's a start.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Trust not Certainty

Was listening to a podcast at the gym today and heard this great story about this guy's quest for certainty in Gods call, and the intersection of his quest with Mother Teresa.

The guy was from the States, and he felt the call of God on his life -- was sure that God was calling him to do something great. Problem was, he had no clue what that great thing was. Well, he had the opportunity to meet Mother Teresa and he asks her to pray for him, and she says yes. Then she asks "what do you want me to pray for you?" He answers "I want clarity." "I want to know exactly what it is that God is calling me to do with my life." Mother Teresa looked back at him and said, "No, I won't pray for that for you." The guy was confused and embarrassed, and he blurts out, "but why, I only want what you've had for your life." "You seem to always know exactly what it is that Gods calling you to do." She looked back at him and said, "I sir, have never had certainty, what I have had is trust." "So, I'll pray that you learn how to trust."

Sunday, May 25, 2008

For I Was Naked And You . . . Smiled?

What a tragedy -- aftershocks continue to roll in China as just this weekend 70,000 more houses collapsed as the ground underneath them moved.

What a horror -- maybe as many as 100,000 people are dead.

What a nightmare -- parents waiting at schools to pick up their children, only instead they are handed a lifeless corpse to carry home, children waiting to be picked up and instead wondering the streets looking for the parents they will never find.

What a joy? What a joy? Are you kidding me? How about what a sickness. Kelly was telling me this morning as we were overcome with such sadness at seeing the above picture and thinking of all that is behind it, that several people smiled this week when she shared her sadness for the victims of the earthquake. Smiled! How, you ask? Why you ask? "Because this means the end times are closer." Translation, in my warped view of how God looks at the world, I should be happy that hundreds of thousands of people are mutilated and killed around the world, because it could meant that I get to go to heaven sooner.

Somehow I don't seem to see that kind of thought process anywhere in the bible; I don't see that anywhere in the heart of Jesus, in his compassion for even those who didn't want anything to do with him, in his tears, in his weeping.

What a sicknesss -- it is a sickness, a corrupted gospel that could result in people who claim to be Christians smiling at the death of children because in their reductionistic, individualistic perversion of the gospel, they might benefit. (Oh, and besides, there are lots of Chinese, and they all look the same anyway -- Kelly read this and asked me to point out that they didn't say this part; this is just my editorial assumption). These people are sick.

Kelly says I can't say what I want to, that they're all going to hell, so I won't. Instead, I'll say, "look close, maybe one of those people who all look the same to you is Jesus."

Thursday, May 22, 2008

The Tragedy of the “what if” life

How many Christians in the west live fear motivated lives? I call them “what if” lives. “God can’t be calling me to this, because “what if . . .” There are so many what ifs, hearing them, paying attention to them is good, but being controlled by them is tragic – and unbiblical. When Jesus asks us to partner with him in his Kingdom agenda he does not require recklessness, but it invites us into lives without fear. How tragic it is that so many who claim to follow Him seem value security and certainty and worship the “what if” more than they do him.

Thumb through the bible, thumb through human history, both are filled with people who did amazing things, things that if it turned out that there was no God, would have been crazy, but they stepped out into uncertainty with a certainty of who God is. And you know what? They never would have done it if they had been controlled by our obsession with security and certainty, if they lived lives of fear, lies of what if.

Nobody knows how life is going to play out. Life is filled with surprise and mystery and uncertainty. So, what do you do with that if you live a what if life? Do you huddle in fear and decide not to follow God unless you have all of the answers? God has always called people into moments, invited inviting them to join him by not to settle for the myth of security (which ironically ignores the fact that all plans can be shattered by a thousand unknowns even if we never step out to join God in what he is doing). God has always been in the business of calling people to step out into the reality that he promises us a life without fear – if we choose to take him up on it. God never promises that all the “what ifs” will be answered. In fact, I don’t think he wants them answered, I don’t think God wants us to have certainty as to how everything will work out when he calls us to step out in faith. Instead, he promises that if we shelve the myth of security and follow him when he calls that we will live amazing lives that will not be wasted, that is the certainty God gives us.

And so, my question: are you going to live your life trapped in fear and uncertainty or are you going to walk with confidence in the certainty that you have? And then laugh in the face of uncertainty. Because in the end we do not need to know the answers to all the “what if;” we don’t need to know, we just need to go, to follow, to trust, to surrender, and then to listen for his voice calling us to join him in what he is doing, and then do so. Faith means being willing to step out in the midst of uncertainty with the certainty that our lives will not be wasted when we step out to partner with God in what He is doing.

So many people spend their lives hoping that God will pick them for great things, "oh, pick me, pick me." And they wait and they wait for the time when there is no risk, they wonder why God never picked them, and die having lives wasted lives.

A fear based life of “what ifs” is sad in the present, but a tragedy in the end.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Putting My Money Where My Mouth Is

It's been a hard week.

I originally posted this a couple of weeks ago, at that time I was reporting upon a shocking surprise from which I believed we would recover and move on to China in August. We just found out last Wednesday that though we are convinced that we are called to go at this time and for this purpose -- coaching and mentoring leaders working with the poorest of the poor in China -- we have officially been stopped. And yet, we also know that this does not surprise God who is the God of who seeks justice, who loves the widows and the orphans. Don't you love the paradoxes that exist all around us -- God's love for justice and people being treated unjustly, most of them much more unjustly than we ever have -- I'm glad that God is so much bigger than our understanding of him (props to C.S. Lewis) It is an amazing time to lean into God and say "teach me," or simply "what is up with this?" Anyway, here is the previous post, once a hurdle, now a barrier.

If you have been following here, or more likely if you are someone who knows me and my family, you know the journey that we have been on towards China. I have always had a heart for China and for Chinese people -- going all the way back to my college days in the early 80's when I took over a year of Chinese history, culture and politics.

Ok, the post is starting to get boring, let me jump to the point.

We have been stepping towards an amazing opportunity -- to move to China and train leaders so that the Church in China can meet the need -- and be the incarnation and signpost of the Kingdom -- through stepping into the breach of the flood of AID's orphans that will hit Southern China within the next 5 years. We have seen miraculous confirmation of this move. And then in a period of 4 days the door seems to have been slammed shut, by an unexpected source with very little recourse. Why? I don't know.

My life verse is my life verse because I will never get there in this life -- but I want to get closer and closer.

I’ve learned by now to be quite content whatever my circumstances. I’m just as happy with little as with much, with much as with little. I’ve found the recipe for being happy whether full or hungry, hands full or hands empty. Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am.

We are praying, we are listening and we are trying to break through what we think is not a blockage from God, but above all, it's time for me to put my money where my mouth is and whatever may be find contentment in the One who makes me who I am.

It's been a hard week.

P.S. After being unable to break through this and seeing things behind the scenes that are scary and break our hearts a bit, it has been another hard week.

Friday, April 25, 2008

An Important Issue Facing Christians Today?

Now this is something that seems really important. Apparently a group in Florida is fighting for the ability to have personalized license plates that read "I believe," like the one in the picture. They are getting push back from the ACLU, because the ACLU claims it violates the separation of church and state -- which is really stupid, because if somebody wants to say "I believe" then who cares, and how is that a state religion -- but I digress. Apparently this fight has been going on for years -- I guess these people feel they need to license plates to tell others they believe because no one would know otherwise.

Is that harsh? Maybe. But, what if they put as much effort into demonstrating that they believed through their life and their interaction with others than through something that merely labels themselves as someone who believes (or maybe labels their car as a car that believes). I know that for me there are a lot of people (myself included) that sometimes it is better that people not know I believe. I think that people being labeled as believers and then acting like jerks has done more damage to the Gospel than almost anything else.

Food for thought is the end of the article about the guy who is pushing this effort. It reads, "Bullard, the plate's sponsor, isn't sure all groups should be able to express their preference. If atheists came up with an "I Don't Believe" plate, for example, he would probably oppose it."


Monday, March 03, 2008

A Challenge To The Church In The West

I've been reading The Resurrection of the Chinese Church. Although the book is a bit dated it is a fascinating snapshot at the Chinese church in the early 1990's -- and a look back towards how it emerged from the darkness of the 70' and the particularly fierce persecution that took place during the Cultural Revolution. When the fog of isolation began to fade, the church raised its head to show that it not only had survived, but had thrived dispute predictions from the west that it would be driven out of existence. Wang Mingdao one of the patriarchs of the Chinese church explained this surprise simply: "We have nothing -- no pastors, no churches, no bibles . . . nothing! We only have God. Therefore, we must always go to him with desperation."

The author, Tony Lambert concludes:
The reason for the growth of the church in china and for the outbreak of genuine spiritual revival in many areas is inextricably linked to the whole theology of the cross. For may Chinese Christians, the doctrine of the atonement of Christ is not a theory but a lived-out reality. The cross and the resurrection, death and life, suffering and glory are linked together in living experience.

The experience of the Chinese church has a deep message for the church oversees . . . . In terms of understanding of Scripture and Christina life and experience the Chinese church challenges western Christians to re-examine our motivation and our loyalty to Christ and Scripture. The stark message of the Chinese church is that God uses suffering and the preaching of a crucified Christ to pur out revival and build his church. Are we in the west still willing to hear?

Ouch -- it hurts because it's true.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Sub-merge by John Hayes of InnerCHANGE

If you have not yet read Sub-merge, I'd advise a click and an order.

Here are my thoughts on the book that I wrote up as part of my work at Bakke Graduate University.

John Hayes describes his book as “a manifesto, a prophetic call to join what God is doing among poor and marginalized communities, those who are shut out from or cannot find footing in the market-driven economics of the world.” (Page 14) His prophetic call is to the church, and those of whom she is formed. His message, Wake up; the ground – the world – has shifted, and the church in the west which is becoming less and less relevant to this new world has been called by God and resourced with amazing capacity to join God in incarnating Jesus to the peoples of this new world.

What does this new world look like? It is increasingly urban, increasingly marginalized, increasingly separated from the church in the west that often has no idea the conditions in which most of the people whom God created in his image must exist. Dr. Hayes writes this book with four areas of urgency in mind:

1. Too few Christians are answering God’s call to live and work among the poor;
2. Those who go, do not stay long enough to make a lasting impact;
3. Mission agencies are organized in ways that make it difficult to sustain missionaries and empower the poor; and,
4. The Church needs to draw more people of varied backgrounds into work among the poor.

This prophetic call is essentially a call towards incarnation. Just as Jesus became flesh to humankind so that humanity could touch God, so we who have been touched by God must incarnate the gospel so that others might touch him as well. Sub-merge is a tapestry, consisting of interwoven threads of incarnational stories as well as the exegesis of those the biblical heartbeat that is behind those stories. One extremely powerful story, in fact, sums up the whole message of this book. It is the story that Dr. Hayes’ tells of his time in Calcutta, where he had gone with great plans and purposes only to be confronted with his own helplessness as he watched a legless man being severely beaten by the police and found himself unable to do anything to stop it. It was not until much later that Dr. Hayes was able to see that the only thing he could have done for the legless man would have been to get on the ground with him and cover him with his own body. That is the heartbeat of God that is the incarnation. It is only through entering into the suffering of others – especially the poorest of the poor – even at the risk of our own lives that we can incarnate the gospel, bring hope to the hopeless, and I believe be faithful to God’s heart for the marginalized.

God has used this book, among many, to stir in the hearts of my wife and me a hunger to incarnate Jesus to the poorest of the poor, and to go wherever God would have us go to do so. As I write this, we are preparing to leave Southern California to move to southwest China which is in the midst of an AID’s pandemic which is resulting in hundreds of thousands of orphaned children. We feel no sense of sacrifice, only that God has brought our hearts more in line with what we believe is his heart, the heart of Jesus – to proclaim (and be) good news to the poor. I believe this book is indeed a prophetic call, a call to which the church in the west must respond, and for which she will be judged.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

OK, Plan B

The great thing about good intentions is that they can be inspiring -- even vision producing. The bad thing is that they are intentions, which by definition are future, and there may not happen. Like my good intention to blog each day from my classes in Seattle -- the intention was indeed good, the follow through, not so much.

So, instead a summery. (I'll add here that class was mostly long days of fascinating interaction plus journaling each evening which left me too worn out to blog each night). Anyway, a big theme of the class was providing opportunities for the students to be challenged, to defend, the be pushed, to push back and to overall be exposed to what an urban theology in a post modern world might look like; what does it look like to contextualize the unchanging gospel into a rapidly changing world.

The really cool thing was that the answer to that question -- which would usually vary from person to person -- was as diverse as the makeup of the class (31 people including students from Africa, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Korea, Kazakhstan, India, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Canada and the United States (more than half of which were African American). The questions of what the church looks like in a post modern, post christian society and all that goes with that question are things I am very familiar with, or so I thought. I realize that I am very familiar with the white middle class American version of that. How many times did I hear "what you said has no application in my country," and to learn how the post christianization of the west is viewed and even effects people other places, and how our how our missionary efforts in some of these countries which I am so quick to point out were often prompted more by colonialism than gospelism are still seen by many in those countries as amazing blessings by God.

Anyway it was a cool time, I was stretched, I made great friends, and look forward to continued learning.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Up In Seattle

I'm up here in Seattle for two weeks of study at Bakke Graduate University as part of my Ministry Doctorate -- Transformational Leadership For The Global City.

It should be a wonderful time -- learning with and from many other students from around the world. I will try to write a bit each day. If you are interested, you can check out the Bakke website to get an idea of the class.