Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Link Here to the Main Thing....

Look, the Perfect Pastor!

This is something that all of us lay churchgoers should read, in order to understand better the task of our pastors, and to ponder how we might pray for, and support them more effectively.

In Flanders Field

Memorial Day 2005

Today we had several families over to enjoy a warm spring afternoon in the pool. We barbecued some steaks and shrimp, and enjoyed the company of good friends. A simple grace.

We did this because we are free. All these friends were old Christian companions, and we have experienced years of fellowship together in a variety of settings. All in a free country, where we don't have to fear the exercising of our faith. Many years ago, I experienced faith in places where people were not free. They are free today, because, it seems, freedom is rather infectious.

My father flew B-17s in World War II in the Pacific. He has some great stories to tell. During that war, some 400,000 Americans gave their lives for our freedom. It was the ultimate sacrifice. And today, our troops stand guard around the globe, protecting freedom. We should remember them well, every day, not just on Memorial Day.

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead.

Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields

....Lt. Col. John Macrae

Saturday, May 28, 2005

What is Our Purpose?

My new car....NOT!

We live on the street where all three "Back to the Futures" were filmed. No kidding. Biff's house is about seven doors up the street from our house. This morning we woke up to the sound of a small student movie crew on our street. We went outside and found a replica of the car from Back to the Future idling in front of our house. This happens every once in a while; it seems there are a number of replica cars around the country - last summer a couple from Ohio visited our street with another replica Delorean.

As I recall, the theme of the movie was about making an attempt to affect the future, all done by traveling backwards in time. My recent reading of Season of Life has had me thinking about how I might serve others in order to affect the future. One of my favorite song writers, Sara Groves, has a line in her song, Generations, that goes:

"Remind me of this, with every decision..... I can pass on a curse or a blessing to those I will never know."

How true. In Season of Life, one of the primary motivating factors of Joe Ehrmann is creating a life that is "other centered" - and picking a "cause" that motivates your life. Something that makes getting out of bed worthwhile each day. Something to live for.

What can we do for the others, for the Kingdom that becomes our "cause"? How can our lives look different? How can we make a difference. More thoughts to come. But for now, go consider, for one thing, doing this, to change the world for future generations.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

More on What It Means to Win

Joe Ehrmann

What would it be like to have a high school athletic team where the stated purpose of the coaches is "to love the players", and the purpose of the team was "to love each other"?

What?! Is this a bunch of "girlie men" loosers? Good luck for this team even placing in the league standings, let alone finishing near the top. What is this....a bunch of football players sitting around "saying their feelings"? "Fred, I really thought the way you tackled me in practice the other day was a bit, well, rough!" I think you have injured my inner child."

Well how about if this team, that loves each other, is one of the most respected high school football traditions in the Baltimore area? This team, and their school have a regional reputation for excellence and character. The co-coach of this team is Joe Ehrmann, former Baltimore Colt and now a pastor and community leader.

This wonderful, loving, upside down theology of leadership of young men is found in Season of Life, a book I have just finished, and recommend highly to you all. In particular, I would suggest this book to Youth Leaders as a great small group starting point for junior and senior high school boys.

What matters in life? Character. Persistence. Kindness. Patience. Love. This book tells us what matters most in life, not winning or loosing, but how we all play the game.

Monday, May 23, 2005

I Want to Be on the Winning Team!

Right! Way to go mates!

Back in the late 1970s (ouch!) when I attended UCLA, we had a silly ritual before the basketball games. Remember, this was Pauley Pavillion, the "house that Wooden built". This was the Mecca of College basketball. Before each game, a grad student named "Frisbee" would rise in front of the hushed student body of thousands, microphone in hand. Holding the game ball high above his head he would ask the assembled masses:

Frisbee: Is this a basketball?

Masses: Yes, that's a basketball! (deafening roar)

Frisbee: Is that a court?

Masses: Yes, thats a court!

Frisbee: Is that the loooosing team (pointing, of course, to our opponents)

Masses: Yes, that's the looooosing team! (student body, pointing as one)

Frisbee: And is that the WINNING team? (pointing now to the Bruins!)

Masses: Yes! Thats the WINNING (even more deafening) team!!!

And the chant would continue to its crescendo, as a review of the material (sort of like a quick review for the dense):

BASKETBALL? BASKETBALL!! COURT? COURT! LOOOOSING TEAM? WINNING TEAM!! Gooooooo Bruins. I get goose bumps thinking of it.

It was great. Always good for a huge laugh, and stares of shock from our opponents, although I think Digger Phelps from Notre Dame got sick of it after a while.

We love being on the winning team. Its awesome. The roar of the crowds, the accolades, the press, its just wonderful. And really now, who keeps photographs or memorabilia of the loosing team in their house? "Hi there Bob, come into my study, where I have the team photo of the runner's up of the last 10 World Series; quite a collection, eh?"

For the last several weeks Micheal Spencer's words have been rolling around inside my not so well hair-covered head. I think these ideas might make an excellent preaching series here, about what is perhaps going on in all of our collective Christian heads.

In the end, does it really matter that we are on the winning team? Does coming in first really matter? I wonder.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

I Guess Its Not Just....This Happy Simple World

A World Full of Contrasts - Ryan Spencer Reed

Today the sun was warm. Our family headed to church, where things are beginning to look more hopeful, although there still is much ground to cover until even the healing can begin. We came home and stopped by the school fair, where we watched dancing elementary kids perform, ate cotton candy, enjoyed cool drinks in the shade with friends, and reveled in the blessing of our small town in the middle of the big city.

We came home, and jumped in the pool. The water was cool and refreshing, but not too cold. Like the porridge that was "just right". Other kids came over, and soon the yard was full of splashing friends and neighbors. We ate a good dinner as the sun went down. Another day in paradise.

But during the past several weeks, we have seen a dear friend loose her battle with cancer, and another good friend diagnosed with a debilitating disease that will eventually take his life, while at the same time struggling with the impending death of his own grown daughter from brain cancer - who is a wife and mother herself. And earlier this week, we learned of the death of a 17 year old from another form of cancer he fought bravely for 5 years. We stood in the door of our church today, and listened as our pastor said, with sadness in his eyes, "we need to just have people around here stop dying!"

And, as I was ending my day today, I found this, which you need some time to look at, but is so worth the time, because it provides contrast to our seemingly happy lives. We need this contrast, a sense of balance if you will. I was also touched by this, we evangelicals need to embrace the arts. I am sorry, but Thomas Kinkade does not sum up all of Christian art for me.

God is at work. He reigns. Sometimes though, I am not at all sure how it all works.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

It's Summer Again!

Pool time again!

In a fit of poor stewardship, I have purchased an underwater housing for my digital camera, with the early results posted above. It is supposed to be 90 degrees today in South Pas, and I will be out amongst it, with a softball game at 1:00 PM, followed by the Fun Fair fundraiser for our schools this afternoon and tomorrow. Its gonna be a hot one!

Couple of things worthy of note today, before I dash off. First, Star Commander Mark Roberts has reviewed Star Wars Episode III at his blog, and even discusses the Holy Spirit and the Force! Also, an interesting series at Tod Bolsingers place about church division, which definitely bears your review. And then, my buddy KC shares some thoughtful reflections on being a pastor. I love all these guys.

More deep thoughts later. But here is one before I go. Always carry a trash bag in your car; this way you will not liter the streets with miscellaneous trash, and help to keep our planet green. And besides, its convenient, because when the bag gets full, you can easily just throw it out the car window.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

The Sylvestri Family

A Memorial to Julie

For those who regularly stop by here, you know that recently our dear friend Julie went Home, after succuming to cancer at age 36. She has been on my mind as much this past week as all the weeks during the past year that we were praying for her. She was a remarkable young lady, it was a priviledge to be her friend. With this in mind, I wanted to share with the rest of you portions of the remarkable eulogy delivered by her husband, Tony this past Sunday at her Memorial/Celebration Service, at which nearly 1,000 people attended. I have never heard anything like it. I have never met anyone like Julie.

As you all can imagine, this is one of the hardest things a person could ever be called upon to do. Almost twelve years ago I stood with Julie right here. It was the happiest day of my life. I held her hands, I put this ring on her finger, and promised her that I would honor her, stay faithful to her, to cherish her as a priority always, for better or for worse, in sickness or in health, until death do us part. My sweet Julie--you know now that I meant it, and that I love you.

Julie graduated from the Buckley School in 1986. Her mom, Darlene, was a faculty member there, and Julie developed warm and loving relationships with many of her teachers, many of whom would become her colleagues years later. Many are here tonight. She was particularly fond of her Latin teacher, Ms. Shipley, who inspired Julie to major in classics when she went off to UCLA. Even before Julie graduated from college, her desire to help and serve others led her to learn sign language and become an interpreter for the deaf. She worked helping deaf students receive vocational training. She would have to go through the training with them, and interpret for future evaluations. She did everything from Burger King to the LA Zoo. She made quite an impact on these deaf students. One of her numerous bridesmaid experiences was at the wedding of one of these students, and years later when we were at the zoo with Thomas a deaf employee recognized her and rushed up to us to thank her and talk to her.

God inspired Julie to replace her retiring Latin teacher at Buckley in 1992, and that's when we met. We clicked instantly and were married within a year of our first date. Our interests, sensibilities, likes and dislikes, goals for the future all were so similar, I often thought we were the male and female version of each other. We truly were partners and true companions.

We lost our first child without even knowing we were pregnant. So when Thomas came along, we were so excited. Julie was amazing during her long labor, calm as a zen nun--Sparky can attest to that. But in the midst of our joy, the doctors discovered a large tumor in her abdomen, and our cancer journey had begun. She was worried about having chemotherapy solely for its effect on the possibility of having a second child. We knew our Emma was out there waiting. So God spared her reproductive system entirely. We began to realize that Thomas was a miracle baby-that his late arrival of 11 days prompted the doctor to perform that one last ultrasound which found the tumor. We praised and thanked our merciful God for allowing us to catch this cancer early. Ovarian cancer usually goes unnoticed for a very long time. At this point Julie would probably want me to encourage all you women to get CA-125 blood tests, and to work hard to find a diagnostic test which can detect it earlier until we find a cure.

After her treatments were over we had five wonderful years. Years filled with Julie's recovery and hope for a long future, Thomas' toddlerhood, Emma's miraculous birth, and all the wonderful joys and exasperations of normal life with two little kids. In the midst of all this, Julie sought to make sense of her experience with cancer in a way which helps others. She sought out other moms who had cancer, or who had been recently diagnosed. She would send them these care packages, filled with scripture, affirmations, poetry and
encouragement. Kaiser would even call her when a new mom was diagnosed. She would go and pray with them, give her care package, and follow up with them regularly. We understood her cancer as an opportunity
for ministry and caring for others. It awakened and quickened our faith in amazing ways. Giving and serving others was her way. Those years also saw Julie return to teaching at Buckley. She told me often that the
accomplishment of which she was most proud was instituting the "Gratitude Month" custom at Buckley of filling out thank-you notes for all those folks on campus who did something special for you. These thank you notes, designed by Julie, are still used as a cherished tradition at Buckley.

We were beginning to settle into a beautiful routine as partners, parents, and colleagues when she started feeling pain in December of 2003. She taught and parented through the pain, thinking it was caused by the way she held Emma, by the way she slept, or even by sciatica. But in the back of our minds, we feared that the cancer had returned. The struggle of body and spirit that followed was well-documented in what turned out to be a blog, an email diary of Julie's search for meaning. Most of you received this email, and you have heard some of it shared tonight. Her emails were sent out, then ended up being forwarded to thousands of prayer warriors all over the world. She had all religions praying for her, on all continents, all sorts of people young and old. We got an email once from the Singapore Gay Men's Chorus telling us that they were praying for her. Secret pockets of Christians in China were praying for her. Kids in Ethiopian Sunday School were praying for her. Presbyterians in Connecticut, Catholics in Rome, Jews in Israel, Methodists in Kansas, Baptists in Mississippi, Orthodox Christians in Washington, Sikh, Hindu, and Muslim friends all were fasting for her and praying for her miracle. It truly boggles the mind. Hear, O Israel--the Lord is ONE!

Her emails went all around the world, touching so many, and ministering to them in wondrous ways. That was her hope--that sharing the chronicle of her journey might inspire others to deepen their faith in a loving and personal God. And Glory to God, it has done just that. We prayed so hard for a miracle. But we tried to tell God the form that miracle should take, to force the hand of God, as it were. We tried everything. But in the end, nothing we did or did not do could change the sovereignty of God. No amount or form of prayer, no nutritional supplements or treatments, no doctors, no alternative therapies, no labels, no rituals could change what God had ordained as the length of her days. For me there is comfort in this, because it means we continue, we persist in the grace and presence of God even though He decided to take her home.

Her last day was very hard, and she clung to life so desperately. As the end started to draw near I began to sing to her. I didn't even think about it. I began to sing Great is Thy Faithfulness, her favorite hymn. Soon Doug (her Dad), Margie and others were singing too, and the room changed from a place where anguish and death were happening to a room in which the Comforter was present, a room where something important and wonderful was taking place--her homecoming, her real birthday.

During her last few months, as Julie began to realize that her condition was worsening, she struggled with the
conflict between her faith in a miracle on the one hand and her need to take care of me and the kids and make preparations for us should she die on the other. She really worries that preparing for her passing somehow showed God that she didn't trust Him to heal her. She spent time preparing scrapbooks, journals, videotapes for the kids. She even made a special box for Emma to open when she has her period, complete with heating pad, pampering items, books, and a long letter for her to read. She made baby quilts for our grandchildren. For me she had a ring made. I opened it on Friday after we buried her. Through my tears I saw that she inscribed on the ring a line from of a gospel song we listened to a lot this year--the ring is inscribed, JOY COMES IN THE MORNING. This is the message she chose for me to read a hundred times a day after she was gone--that I should not be discouraged, that joy comes in the morning. But the best way in which Julie thought to provide for the kids and me is all of you in this room--the legions of people touched and moved and inspired by her to help others, to love the Lord, to think to do little things for another's comfort. Her ripples will extend long after she is gone, all over the world. There are angels saying to each other, "That Julie--what a special beautiful soul she is."

Julie was a fighter. She was afraid of pain, but had a tremendous capacity to endure it. Her disease proved stronger than her body was, but her faith never faltered; she never doubted that she could be well, even to the very end. She even wanted me to pray for a resurrection after she was gone. It is clear to me that the Lord wanted her to join Him in Paradise. Why, I don't know, and will never know, until I ask him myself when I am standing with Julie again. (And from Julie's perspective, I and the kids will be with her in just a moment). She would want you to know that she now has no pain, a new body, a restoration of her beauty, her long hair back again instantly. She would want you to know that God reigns, and does things His way in spite of what we
want. She would want to remind you of the mystery of it all.

One of her favorite female saints, Julian of Norwich, wrote a quote which was so important as a personal motto for Jules, ever since she was first diagnosed with this horrible disease--"All shall be well, all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well." It is this motto that I had inscribed on her grave marker. And all SHALL be well. Julie loved you all. Please honor her and what she meant to you by renewing your faith in God, in a God who heals and a God who answers prayer, even if not in the way we hope.

All SHALL be well, because joy comes in the morning.

Why I Support Young Life

Young Life Shaving Clinic - Personal hygiene is Important!

Yesterday, I had lunch with two fellow members of my local Young Life Committee. During the conversation I was asked to write up a brief piece on why it is I support Young Life. And so, I will share with you my reasons.

The Need
I recently read Chap Clark's remarkable book, "Hurt", which should be the one book that parents, educators, and youth workers should read to understand youth culture. Clark managed to get inside the world of US teenagers and reveal the depths of angst, pressure and loneliness they feel. What I learned, and what I am learning daily as the father of two girls, aged 11 and 14, is that there are many layers of teen culture, including places where adolescents are most honest and vulnerable. Todays youth are a tribe apart, and it is we adults who have abandoned them.

By the time adolescents enter high school, most have been subjected to at least a decade of adult-driven agendas. We all know of coaches who are so invested in winning at youth sports that they leave mediocre athletes on the bench or pull them off the team, or perhaps the once playful dance classes that somehow morph into intensive dance training and regional competitions. Or the high school junior who faces a nightly four-to-five hour marathon of homework only to rise at 7 a.m. for morning band practice before AP calculus. And what of the kids that merely blend into the woodwork; who come from families of fractured marriages, or who feel too big or skinny, too tall or short, or are not part of the "popular" crowd. As this critical stage of life, who will befriend them, who will tell them that they matter, that each of their lives have infinite value?

The Solution
Most of Clark’s research took place in Crescenta Valley High School in north Los Angeles County. One might wonder how a middle-aged dad could get inside the heads of so many teens from so many walks of life. He did this by doing what most adults are unwilling to do, by spending time with teens and asking questions, by showing a genuine curiosity in their world and a willingness to hear their answers without judgment. Not surprising, Clark comes from a long background of ministry to youth, most notably with Young Life.

This is the solution; taking the time to be with kids. To enter their world, to listen, to befriend, to walk with them on the bumpy trail of adolescence. This is what Young Life is all about - simply spending time with junior and senior high kids. Since the ministry began in 1941, Young Life leaders have been leaving the comfort of their adult worlds and entering the arena of high school and middle school life. You will find Young Life leaders sitting in the stands at football games, walking the streets of inner-city neighborhoods, driving carloads of kids to the shopping malls, or simply listening to the stories of kids at the local burger place after school. Young Life leaders model trust, respect and responsibility to their young friends, and they do it within a meaningful context, within the context of a teenager's world.

At Young Life, we follow the example of the most remarkable man in history. Jesus came to be among us, to spend time with us, to hear our stories, to heal, and to point the way to a loving God. This is what we are about in Young Life, listening, caring, becoming part of kids lives, and showing the way.

This is why I love Young Life.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Congratulations Graduates

You really spin my beanie!

For those who doubt the focus and maturity of America's graduating class of 2005...

I direct you to this (wait for it to load).

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

And In This Cornaahh, Theee Lord Jeeesus!

Come to Church, you Girlie Man!

After my experience of Sunday (see post below) I have found real world evidence that church fighting is actually the new trend, here. This video (hang in for the load-up and the commercial) is further proof that:

1. Canadians are nuts (disclaimer - I married one)
2. Christian folk are nuts.

If you need it, for further perspective on our silly narcissistic lives as American Christians, go here.

I rest my case.

Monday, May 16, 2005

My Brain Hurts!

Are you the "brain specialist"...?

Sorry! No posts for a couple of days. As a partial explanation, I offer this old bit from Monty Python:

T. F. Gumby: My brain hurts!
Specialist: Well let's take a look at it, Mr Gumby.
(Gumby specialist starts to pull up Gumby's sweater. )

T. F. Gumby: No, no, no, my brain in my head. (specialist thumps him on the head)
Specialist: It will have to come out.
T. F. Gumby: Out? Of my head?
Specialist: Yes! All the bits of it. Nurse! Nurse! (a nurse enters)
NURSE! NURSE! Nurse, take Mr Gumby to a brain surgeon.

Well, there you have it. My brain hurts. Yesterday I was witness to a portion of the most unpleasant, mean-spirited, ugly, anger-laced congregational meeting I have ever seen. This was, for me, until I left early, one of the low points of Christendom. Heaven forbid someone coming in from the outside of the Church World should have seen this event. It was almost like one of those fist fights that occasionally break out in the Legislature of Some Little Baltic/South East Asian/Other Rather Anonymous Country. Just short of people climbing over chairs to wallop one another.

How lovely. How Christ like. What happened to this and this?

My brain hurts. I could barf.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Can't We All Just Get Along?

Polarized Opinions (sorry no Ackroyd pictures!)

Surely everyone older than 40 remembers the Old Saturday Night Live Weekend Update. And they remember the infamous "Point Counterpoint" in which Dan Ackroyd would holler, "Jane, you ignorant, misguided (expletive)". It made us laugh, largely because Dan had no fear, and when he got mad about an issue, he said his mind, which, although rude, was honest.

I have often felt like I wanted to be Dan Ackroyd of late, on several fronts. As I have mentioned here, and other places earlier in this blog, our family has been attempting to cope with all the effects of a major league church split that is ongoing. The whole situation is a traffic accident, with hurt people littering the landscape. Add to that, we now have a small Donneybrook occurring within our local school district. Enraged citizens want to fire our Superintendent after only nine months or so on the job. Conflict, it seems, is unavoidable. And in both situations, I have taken sides, which may make me not well liked in some quarters.

Full disclosure time. I am an Enterpriser! According to The Pew Trust, with a hat tip to Rob Asghar and this post, I am coming to grips with my Inner Enterpriser. And by the way, my Inner Enterpriser just kicked the living daylights out of my Inner Child, told him he did not want tax dollars paying for his whimpy attitude, and called the forced him to register Republican while giving him an indian burn. Uncle! An Enterpriser, egads, and for shame!

And yet, I have also to contend with this Shepherd, who bids me to be a peacemaker. So how do I balance my convictions and the One who wants to shape my soul. Where is humility in all of this?

I am open to suggestions here.

Youth Workers, Alert!!

Soul Searching

Do you know anyone involved in youth ministry? Youth Director, Jr. High Leader, Senior High, College? Perhaps even a youth volunteer from your church that you respect and admire? If so, head here, or to your local book store today, and purchase "Soul Searching" by Christian Smith and Melinda Denton. Buy them this book, and buy a copy for yourself. I am sure that my buddy KC and his blog friend Peter will be getting a copy soon. Right guys?

This work, funded by the Lilly Endowment is perhaps the seminal study of the spiritual lives of American youth in the past decade. Christianity Today has reviewed the book here, and it drove me to my local book store several weeks ago. I am digesting its contents now, and will be sharing some of my thoughts about this book soon.

First peek inside - as it turns out, American kids are not nearly as rebellious about religious conformity as one might think. More later.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Goodbye, For Now...

Farewell, for now, Julie

Today's news:
  • United Air Wins Court Battle Over Pension Plans
  • Rumsfield Seeks Leaner Army
  • China Rules Out Sanctions to Pressure North Korea

And in our world, our dear friend Julie today went Home. The cancer she fought for almost a year was more than she could bear.

Julie's husband Tony, summed up the struggle so very well just the other day in an email to all of us who have been praying and hoping for Julie:

"She has also agreed to be formally admitted into the hospice program, having resisted that label up to now. They are delivering a hospital bed this afternoon, and the doctor told me that our sweet Julie has but a few days left with us. I don't believe that. I'm not going to deny the rapid decline my eyes see. I am not going to avoid opportunities for me and the children to begin the process of transforming our little family into a littler family. But in the midst of that, I am not going to deny the absolute and ultimate, merciful and faithful sovereignty of God. HE will decide the moment of her death. HE will be with her and with all of us as this unfolds. HE will give us joy and comfort in the midst of this suffering. And, if He wishes it, HE will heal her and grant her a longer life. Nothing we do or do not do will change the soveregnty of God. No amount or form of prayer, no supplements or treatments, no doctors, no alternative therapies, no labels, no rituals can change what God has ordained as the length of her days. For me there is comfort in this, because it means we continue in the grace and presence of God even if He takes her. There are many who may doubt, or rage or give up entirely, but not us.

As for me and my house, we believe."

Sunday, May 08, 2005

The Lanyard

A fitting poem, for Mother's Day:

The Lanyard
Billy Collins

The other day I was ricocheting slowly off the blue walls of this room,
moving as if underwater from typewriter to piano,
from bookshelf to an envelope lying on the floor,
when I found myself in the L section of the dictionary
where my eyes fell upon the word lanyard.

No cookie nibbled by a French novelist could
send one into the past more suddenly
—a past where I sat at a workbench at a camp
by a deep Adirondack lake learning how
to braid long thin plastic strips into a lanyard,
a gift for my mother.

I had never seen anyone use a lanyard or wear one,
if that’s what you did with them,
but that did not keep me from crossing strand over strand
again and again until I had made a
boxy red and white lanyard for my mother.

She gave me life and milk from her breasts,
and I gave her a lanyard.
She nursed me in many a sick room,
lifted spoons of medicine to my lips,
laid cold face-cloths on my forehead,
and then led me out into the airy light
and taught me to walk and swim,

and I, in turn, presented her with a lanyard.

Here are thousands of meals, she said,
and here is clothing and a good education.
And here is your lanyard, I replied,
which I made with a little help from a counselor.

Here is a breathing body and a beating heart,
strong legs, bones and teeth,
and two clear eyes to read the world,
she whispered, and here, I said,
is the lanyard I made at camp.

And here, I wish to say to her now, is a smaller gift
—not the worn truth that you can never repay your mother,
but the rueful admission that when
she took the two-tone lanyard from my hand,
I was as sure as a boy could be that this useless,
worthless thing I wove out of boredom
would be enough to make us even.

Amen. Thank you Lord, for my Mother,
and for my wife, who is the best Mother I have ever known.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Lord, Hear Our Prayer

Our only hope

Sometimes, it helps to have a sense of perspective.

Last night, the chapel of our church was filled with more than 100 people, all there for one purpose; to pray. Our dear friend Julie, has been given less than two months to live by her doctors. Julie has been fighting cancer now for almost a year, and for the second time in the past 6 years or so. Julie has a wonderful husband Tony, and two small children, Thomas and Emma.

Julie is surrounded by a community of loving friends that is remarkable to behold. Only in the Kingdom, can this kind of amazing collection of people come together. There was a friend of Julie's there who had driven down from Santa Barbara to pray for her, and another friend who felt that God wanted him to be there, so he flew in from Sacramento. Young and old, prominent and plain, all were there. If Julie's extended community of friends had all been able to make it, we would have had standing room only, with folks standing outside too.

Julie was there too, although she had been in the hospital earlier. She is is a great deal of pain. She wants to live, and she wants to be a mother to her two children, which is what she feels God has called her to do. We all sang together, and prayed, implored the Lord to heal Julie, and praised Him for his faithfulness and goodness.

At the end of the day, Christ is our only hope. He is all that is worth living for. Please, God, let Julie live....

Won't you pray for Julie too? Its our only hope.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

The Long and Winding Sojourn

The Long and Winding Road

As some might have surmised by my somewhat not so vague posts over the course of the last couple of months, during the past several years, our family has witnessed the dsyfunction, denial, and decline of a once fairly significant evangelical church. Over the past several months, this has declined into a rather gruesome church split, at our church home of 17 years. All of this has been agonizing to watch take place. My friend Mark Roberts has been recently blogging, not so indirectly, on the topic of Christian conflict. If you have ever experienced it, read this. Matter of fact bookmark the series, odds are, you are going to really need it someday. Blame it on the fall.

And so, I have been on a sojourn, if you will, of other churches. I have become the guy looking lost in the pew, rather than the well-connected leader in the congregation. Our family has been typically in several different places on Sundays, as we balance the needs of pre-teen and teenage daughters for meaningful Christian Education and fellowship. It has been a bit nutty, but we have maintained our sanity, our family and above all, our faith. We have seen a lot, and learned even more. Christ is faithful.

The ensuing months have made me do a LOT of thinking about what Christian lay involvement, leadership, and pastoral roles mean. To confess, I think I have had it wrong in many ways. I need a paradigm shift. As long as I can remember, there has been a part of me that has wanted to be one of the "key leader people"; which, in turn, has a lot to do with my needs for recognition. I am actually looking forward to the second half of my life, so that I can further flesh out what all this means, and what my paradigm shift in Christ means. Maybe this is why I now find myself more involved with Young Life - which really is grass-roots ministry to those in need.

Jesus was a servant to those closest to him, so should we be. He recognized the little people, the nearly invisible, and so should we. He cared for the unlovely, as should we. He spoke words of life and did completely unexpected and confusing things. He loved immensely and mysteriously. Perhaps I have spent far too much time the past 10 years or so involved, as an Elder (Homer Simpson voice: "note how I capitalize, I am Mr. Important") on church committees, working out my own needs for recognition. In retrospect and in reality, my reflection is that sometimes, not much tends to get done for the Kingdom in those settings. I need to refocus my priorities on the character of Christ. Pick up a towel. Offer a cool drink. Listen. Learn. Love. Live.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Bible, Newspaper, and the Internet 10x10

Bible in one hand and newspaper in the other

The great reformed preacher Karl Barth once said that sermons should be written with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other. As the principal author of "The Barmen Declaration," he was the intellectual leader of the German Confessing Church, the Protestant group that resisted the Third Reich.

For the age we live in, perhaps it should be, instead, Bible on one hand, Internet in the other". To that end, I have found this web site as a wonderful example of what the web can help us do - reach into the world with our hearts and minds.

Ten by Ten, as the website states: "...is an often moving, sometimes shocking, occasionally frivolous, but always fitting snapshot of our world. Every hour, 10x10 collects the 100 words and pictures that matter most on a global scale, and presents them as a single image, taken to encapsulate that moment in time. Over the course of days, months, and years, 10x10 leaves a trail of these hourly statements which, stitched together side by side, form a continuous patchwork tapestry of human life."

Use this as a tool, in your study and prayer. Peace!

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Tale of Two Churches, Part Two

Not your fathers church

A quick stop at Starbucks (my daughter Heather loves Mocha Frappachinos) and we were off to Mosaic, our second church for the morning. If Sierra Madre Congregational is like California in 1975, Mosaic (to me, mind you) is like, well, um, lets see, the Planet Zork in 2053. No sanctuary, no hymnals, pews, ushers in suits, no organ, no pastors in robes, not even a cross.

Ok, so right there, just now, I guess I exposed some of my questions and "issues" about the whole emergent church thing. Those of you who have been with me since the beginning of my personal Blogorama know that I love the church, in quite all its forms, dearly. But the Emergent Church, for me, is like that strikingly hip couple that moved into the condo next door. They dress so cool, it hurts. Their interior decorating involks all sorts of wild ideas and themes, but not a feeling of home. They have jobs in the internet, and can actually speak entire sentences without using any terms I can understand. And they give you looks on occasion that seem to say, "You are so old school, dude." Sigh!

That said, I would have to also say that in this church (rented auditorium at a Christian school campus, complete with outdoor tents for various ministries of the church) the gospel is proclaimed. But this church is truly emergent, baby. Good, and fairly generic praise music, with three guitars, drums, bongo, and synthesizer. Good vocals. Then a segue video about the theme of the sermon for the morning. Then a short drama/comedy presentation which also illustrated the theme of the morning. An artist off to one site painting the logo of the theme for the morning during the service. Strikingly cool. Complicated, yet simple. Sensory overload, to a point. Is this a movement of God, or another trend. Funny to think, that compared to this, the Vineyard is old and boring.

The demographic: 20s and 30s, and very close to the age and racial demographic I noted for the area I noted below, in that there were all sorts of races present. Lots of crying babies, and "Preschool #s" would occasionally appear on a big screen (quietly) during the service. My daughter and I surmised that this meant if you got the lucky number, your kid was somewhere, at that moment, raising heck, and you'd best go rescue that preschooler. Like leaving your car lights on, only different. I was probably among 50 or so people over 40 years old, in a room with about 1,000 present. So, if you are closing in on your AARP membership, you might feel out of place.

The spoken Word you ask? Very good. Clearly, this sermon had not been dialed in by the pastor. He walked us through four separate New Testament illustrations of Jesus and the Christian life well, making his point, and making it in the context of modern life. Ancient and modern (very modern) connected well. Glory to God.

My one big problem. The thematic of the preaching series of this church since Easter has been "Imagine - Creating the Life of Your Dreams". Ok. This bothered me. So, is this what the church should be promoting - the "Life of Our Dreams"? What if my dreams are selfish, and pointless. What if my dreams sort of, but not really, involve the guiding of the Holy Spirit? What if my dreams are about 14 degrees off of True North of what Christ is really calling me to do and be?

Your dreams? My dreams? I don't trust my dreams. I can only cling to the dreams that God in Christ has for me. Seek out those dreams; pursue God. Perhaps its just my semantical problem, but I cannot be trusted by my own dreams, they must be slowly, daily, painfully sometimes, conformed to the will of Christ.

Better idea for a theme: "Imagine - Creating the Life of His Dreams for you"

For some other very interesting perspectives on this sort of thing try reading here, and here.

Parting thought. In neither of these two places did I feel at home. No one offered to ask my name, or how I was, or how I got there. At least in the Congregational church we got to shake hands during the service. In the end, is not our best experience of the church through the touch, the smile, the listening ear of a human? All the forms of liturgy and pomp (or lack thereof), of worship and order tend to recede in meaning unless we are met by others in a personal way.

Enough said. Grace and Peace

A Tale of Two Churches

Your father's church...

As some of you may know, I have been doing some church exploring for the past nine months or so. I have posted about it before here and several other different places.

Today, I went to church twice. And I have lots of things spinning around inside my head now. A disclaimer before I begin. Following the way in which God has created all sorts of different shapes and kinds of people, so too is His church reflected, and I love this. Some of you will note that I almost turned into a Catholic last month. But no, wouldn't be prudent. So, for anyone reading (that is all 12 of you) nothing I am going to say here is meant to be critical, although it might sound that way. I love the church, in all its forms, and I hope by what I say, that I might, in some small way, help it grow and flourish.

So. First, to understand what I am about to do, go look at Ship of Fools Mystery Worshipper website. Today, I was a mystery worshipper of sorts at two churches. This first is pictured above. Its your father's type of church.

Sierra Madre Congregational Church

This church is located in a serene suburban setting that most people would mistake for "Main Street, USA". I go here because my 11 year old daughter has friends in and enjoys greatly the youth department.

I attended the 9:30 worship service. The pastor seems to be a kind, warm, and very pastoral fellow who has lead this church for many years. This is a very white, upper middle class church; the choir was singing this morning, and there was not a single person in the choir under the age of 40. My guess on the mean age for the choir and congregation is about 50 years old. The median age - 55. This is interesting, as within a five mile radius, the population is 53% white, 29% Hispanic, and 24% Asian. The median five mile radius age is 37.6. Remember this for the other church I visited.

A new Missions Director was introduced to the congregation, and her brief comments were for me, the highlight of the morning. When asked what she had to say about the new opportunity to lead Missions, she commented, "This is about glorifying God". Well done.

The sermon was from Ephesians 1:3-6; and the title "Why do we Worship God?". Pastor Anderson really only had one answer, and it was a good one. Grace. The only challenge for me was that the pastor repeated this about (not kidding here) 30 times. It seems to me that there are many more reasons why we might want to worship God. Good topic, very light on content. And if you were not a frequent church attender, there was too much "church speak" in this message. Not seeker friendly. At the end of the sermon, communion was served, which is always a sweet moment for me in any setting; although no words of institution were offered, and the pastor said, at the end "its time to drink, drink ye all".

My thoughts in summary; I grew up about two miles from this church, and really, this service felt like I had never left home, and been frozen in a time warp. This worship service felt like Arcadia, California in 1975. The clothes, the sermon, the music. Everything.

So then, I went to another church. You might call it the bi-polar opposite of Sierra Madre. See that above.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...