Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Why Do You Sing?

Recently, some friends of mine made a trip to a church conference. You know those church conferences; the ones where attendees run around in the hotel halls till all hours in the morning, hurl water balloons out the windows at unsuspecting passersby, and place "Jesus Love You" fart cushions on the dining hall chairs.

Anyway. My friends came back very encouraged, with some great stories to tell. This is good news, given the recent wackiness in my denomination.

Much of the positive feedback by my friends was about an amazing talk by Scott Dudley, who is embracing lots of the ideas I like about what the church should become. Go here to find the full video of Scott's thoughts (middle of the page for the video links - Friday, August 18 - first video). There were lots of good ideas, more on a bit of this soon here. Stay tuned.

You will need some time to view this video. Take it. Its very worth it. It will do your heart good.

File Under: Church Thoughts

Sunday, August 27, 2006

A Confession

Alright. I have something to confess. I have always wanted, no coveted, no wait - LUSTED after a nice long trip in in of these babies, pictured at left. This is a Bombardier Challenger 604, which I can imagine is one sweet ride. Yes, I would like more red wine please, as we near Mach 1.....

And now, I think I have figured out a way to get one. Not just a ride, but one to keep for me (oh, and my "ministry" too). Oh yeah, I will also need hair plugs for the "big hair" look, have my wife bleach her hair, and sell my collection of Hawaiian shirts in exchange for more polyester.

Just go look here, and you will see the essence of my plan.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

The Warehouse & The Question

My last thoughts may have seemed like I was a bit miffed, or annoyed, or that I had ingested something bad at dinner, and simply had gas. That was not the case.

The Huge Question about the lack of response of most people to the good news of the Gospel is still there, and I think that many of us Christian folk are not spending enough time thinking about it. This bugs me.

How can we know the greatest news in all the Universe, and not find new, creative, real, and meaningful ways to share it?

Today, I was reading this book by this guy. I have to admit that I bought it several months ago, with good intentions. It sat on my bedroom floor until today. Eugene Peterson tells a story that helps me with the Huge Question. Not an answer, but some help in understanding.

The Warehouse
Imagine a group of people living in a warehouse. They were born there, raised, and have everything they need there. There are no exits to the building, but there are windows. However, these windows are thick with dust, and are never cleaned, so nobody bothers to look out. Why would they? The warehouse has everything they need, and it feels safe.

But then one day, one of the children drags a step stool under one of the windows, scrapes off the window-crud, and looks out. She sees people walking on the streets; and calls to her friends to come and look. They crowd around the window; they had no idea a world existed outside of their warehouse. And then, they notice a person out in the street looking up and pointing; soon a crowd is gathered out there, looking up and talking excitedly. The kids inside the warehouse look up, but all they see is the dark roof of their warehouse.

Finally, the kids get tired of looking of watching the people outside acting weird, pointing at nothing and getting all excited about it. After all, what's with those people, stopping for no reason at all, pointing at nothing in the sky, and they talking to each other like its a big deal?

But, know what? Those people down in the street were looking up at a huge flock of geese, or a massive pile of brilliantly white thunder clouds, or a team of hang gliders doing turns in sky. Those people down there look up and see the heavens, and everything in them. The warehouse people have no heavens above them, just a warehouse roof.

But what if, one day, one of those warehouse kids cut a door in the side of the warehouse, coaxed his friends out, and discovered this immense sky above them and the grand horizons beyond? Karl Barth tells us that this is what happens when we open the Bible, and open ourselves to the Creator; we enter the totally unfamiliar world of God, a world of creation and salvation stretching endlessly above and beyond us. Warehouse life did not prepare us for this!

Adults in the warehouse scoff at the adventure tales that the kids bring back. After all, we are completely in control of this warehouse world, and in control in ways we could never be outside under the Big Sky. And, we want to keep it that way.

So, how do we tell our kid adventure stories in new ways, ways that coax others outside the warehouse?

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Huge Question, Part 1

It’s a cool August night. We enjoyed dinner on the back porch, shared some good wine, and laughed with good friends. The dinner dishes have been put away, and now, again, I am confronted with this Huge Question. It has been recurring a lot in my mind over the past several months, and I have been meaning to write about it. But really, this Question has been in my head for years.

Actually its more of a series of recurring questions; all of which compile into the Huge Question. I think I know the “answers” to the questions, but then again, not some of the real causes behind the Huge.

Here is the Huge Question. Why is it, that given the chaotic nature of our world, of the inability we have to control our own lives, of the extent and nature of disease, confusion, and the pain in daily life – why is it that so few of the people I know, in my life, in my work, in my circle of acquaintances, want to acknowledge God? Its as if God never existed, and spiritual things have absolutely no bearing on the lives of men today. None. Nothing.

Smart church people have a quick answer to this question. “It’s the fall”, they smugly say, referring to the Genesis story of the rebellion of Adam and Eve. “You know, God gave us all free will, and some people choose not to pursue spiritual things”, the smart church folks will say. They smile, and sigh, somewhat passively, and sit back in their chairs. Then, many of them move on. To other things, more immediate things; such as what is for desert, or what time their favorite TV show comes on, or what they are going to make for the next church potluck event. What they might not think about are all those people, that I run into each day, that are spiritually hungry at their very core, but do not look to the Christian church for answers.

More on this soon.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Blogger Beta Baby!

I am now running this Blog in Blogger Beta, the new improved version of Blogger. Or so I am lead blindly to believe. I love technology.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

NomadShow Trailer - Sara Groves

Caring, Taking Risks, Going New Places, and Finding Christ

Above is the trailer for the brand new DVD, "Sara Groves...Just Showed Up For My Own Life". I have enjoyed Sara, and her music now for some time, and I think that this DVD could be a wonderful way to learn more about her life, and the way in which she puts her faith into action. I love this stuff!

For more information, go to the
Nomad Show web site. For another great example of rich American's making a difference in the world, go here.

It seems to me that people want to see our faith lived out much more than just hearing us ramble on about it.

Friday, August 11, 2006

These Are the Good Old Days

Our two week family vacation to visit my wife's family in Toronto has come to an end. Tomorrow, we board Air Canada for the flight back to LA - free of liquids (including water) and gels in our carry-on items, thanks to some people who just hate us and our way of life.

These two weeks have had me reflecting a bit on my life, and its interplay with the lives of my daughters, my wife, in-laws, and other good friends back home.

We spent a week at a cottage in a quaint, old-fashioned location in Balm Beach, Ontario. This is a place that looks as if not much has changed in maybe 75 years. The cottage (Canadian term for house/cabin/place not in the city) we stayed in was constructed in 1930 or so. Just about nothing has changed in this home, and photos on the wall all have a 1930s feel to them. When you spend a week there, you feel, in many ways, like you are frozen in time. Its easy to forget what day it is.

Days at the cottage are easy, with the biggest decision of the day involving what time to go to the beach and enjoy the lake, the sun, and the sand. "The lake" is actually Georgian Bay, off of Lake Huron. Large lake. Beautiful spot. The cares of the world seem light years away; and actually they are pretty far away - about 2,500 miles.

In a place like this, you can pause from the busy whirl of life, and look back. Back on the past year, since our amazing vacation last summer, on how our girls our growing, the love in our marriage that continues to change and grow, and how new friends have blessed us with their mere presence.

But there is another part of me, perhaps a part of all of us. Its a longing for places like Balm Beach...all the time. We long for the good old days. Times free of trouble. Times when people cared about each other, and you actually knew your neighbors names. Times when you could stop, slow down, sit on the porch, and enjoy the soft light at the end of day. When exactly were those good old days anyway?

I had a small epiphany today, on the freeway in Toronto. We were stuck in Friday rush hour traffic, and I could have been home in LA for the way everything looked around me. Urban sprawl, gnarled traffic. In the back of the car, our two girls (12 and 15) were bored, and Heather, our 12 year old, was trying out the names of all her friends, audibly, in Pig Latin. This became a rather long and exhaustive dissertation, which involved large quantities of giggling between she and her sister.

And then it hit me. I will never, ever, again be at exactly this point in time, with these amazing, sweet, thoughtful, maddening, and wonderful ladies that God has briefly loaned to us. This moment in Toronto traffic, with the slightly annoying giggles of two girls, was in fact....The Good Old Days.

Some day, when Nancy and I are older, moving slower, and reflecting on the past, we might just recall this vacation, this time off, and this trip in the car. And we will smile and say.......well, you know the rest.

Maybe, these are the "good old days" for you to, if you are looking.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Hoser Nation

Having spent the last 10 days in Canada, I am again reminded of the distinct differences between our two nations. Exhibit A is shown above.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

New Ideas, Good Ideas, Scary Things

We have spent a great week with family at the cottage on Georgian Bay, and I have almost finished Leadership Next, by Eddie Gibbs. I have completely enjoyed this book filled with new ideas about what the church and leadership within the church will look like in the years to come. Professor Gibbs has devoted much of his academic work at Fuller Seminary to these ideas, and so, I am learning from an expert.

Bottom line of what I have been reading: this is not your father’s church. Its not even my church. A church oriented to the missional call of Christ in the coming years is not going to necessarily look like what I expect, what I think it should, or what I feel comfortable with. It is going to be highly relational, not authoritative, not focused around a single personality. The future church is going to be, if anything, a team. A team focused on a common call and purpose, a vision to reach out, not to insulate within.

Can we pull this off at our church? Can we change traditions that have been many years in the making? Can we find a new direction and work together as a team? Can we?

Although the challenges are great, and the traditions of our old church are quite staid and ingrained, I have never felt more hopeful. The events of the past year have quite literally, broken us. We have few pretenses anymore. We are no longer the “big church on the corner” with the years of tradition, and the shiny images to protect.

We can start over. We can clear the decks and ask God to begin in us something new. Something new, and fresh, inviting, embracing, and empowering to those who visit. And for us older folk, who have been around a while, and think we know it all, it might well be something scary.

To that I say, please Lord, scare me.

File under: Church Thoughts

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Feeling Powerless on Georgian Bay

We were warned earlier in the day on the weather channel.

The afternoon was sunny, hot, and more humid that I could imagine. Another typical Ontario summer afternoon. We spent most of the late afternoon in the lake, standing in cool water up to our necks. The perfect remedy to a hot and sticky day.

And then last night, as we finished dinner on the porch of our cottage, the sky slowly darkened, and the wind picked up. The breeze increased gradually at first, and then stronger, bending the trees at a 45 degree angle to the ground, the rushing sound of it all surrounding us. And then, as pictured at left (click to enlarge), the storm front approached. I felt as if I was in the early scenes of The Wizard of Oz. Where was Toto? The power went out, not to be restored until 5:30 AM the next morning.

Within minutes, the weather had changed completely. Now, as the wind reached perhaps 50 miles an hour, the rain came, first in sprinkles, then in sheets, coming right in the screen windows of the porch, a blast of fine mist. I felt like Jack Sparrow behind the helm of the Black Pearl in a raging storm. Arggggg! Avast! Batten down the hatches! We retreated behind glass windows to watch the show.

And then, after perhaps an hour and a half, the winds slowly subsided. Calm gradually returned, and we walked down to the beach in the wind to view a brilliant, colorful sunset.

Was this a metaphor for other things in my life? I am not sure, but it was one heck of a storm.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Balm Beach Cottage

Here we are at the cottage in Balm Beach, Township of Tiny, Ontario, Canada. Time like this, with family, is a blessing, and I am thankful for this noisy, funny, interesting, fun bunch of people that God has brought me to be a part of almost 18 years ago.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

More Thoughts on the Scary New Future

Some more thoughts on what the future of the church is going to look like, based on my reading of Leadership Next, by Eddie Gibbs.

"A “missional church” is one that focuses on “going forth” into the world, rather than looking inward to its own programs and plans."

"The gospel embraces so much more than just the important truth of making a decision for Christ. It is as much concerned about how we live our lives before death as with after death. In its true New Testament meaning, external life embraces the here and now, as a prelude to eternity."

"For younger leaders, the greatest concern isn't how to get people to come to church but how best to take the church into the world. Their emphasis is not on extraction from the world, but on engagement with society. This emphasis on engagement needs to be reflected in the church’s criteria for selecting leaders and training them for ministry. For example, those who seek ministry in the church as an escape from the pressures of secular employment need to be weeded out. At the same time, those offering themselves for ministry without any significant life experience outside of the church need to immerse themselves in the secular world – just as a missionary candidate would be encouraged to have prefield, crosscultural experience."

It is all going to be different folks, lets open our hearts and minds, and get ready.

For a wonderful and hauntingly sad example of resistance to change, go read this short story.

File under: Church Thoughts

Tipping the Table Over, Starting New

Over the past year, as our church has slowly been gaining its collective bearings, as the fog of confusion, and disagreement, and fighting has cleared, strangely, I keep thinking of the same mental image. Maybe this image is from God, maybe not. I don’t pretend to really know those times when God gives me ideas, much less tell other people that God told me something. But, I keep thinking about this image.

The image is twofold. First, is that of a table, that has been tipped over, its contents scattered on the floor around it.

The objects that used to be on this table were once very important to many people, and perhaps, things on the table had even represented “the sacred” to some. Things that were once neatly arranged, now throw to the floor in haphazard fashion, some broken, as if those things never really mattered for much in the first place. Could this be the traditions of our church?

Sometimes we Christian folk make these neat little place settings for ourselves, with all the components arranged so neatly; Martha Stewart would certainly call it a “good thing”. We have our neat little fellowship groups, and our Bible studies, and our men’s and women’s groups. Ushers, and deacons, and elders, Sunday school flannel-graph characters, age appropriate playground equipment, single’s ministries, pot luck dinners, “special music”, correct theology, guest speakers, noted scholars, and church leadership structures. All so ordered, so neat. It looks so good, we think. We think of ourselves as rather intelligent, contemporary, and fashionable, and even sometimes even relevant to the culture.

There is a new paradigm for church leadership, and Professor Eddie Gibbs talks about just these things in Leadership Next. I have to quote one bit here, it is just too good to ignore:

"…so much ministerial training has focused on caring for the flock of God and on maintaining the “shop”. So much of our traditional theological agenda has been shaped by a Christendom-context mentality and has been largely confined to an internal debate between various theological factions. A missional theology, on the other hand, focuses on dialogue with unbelievers and those of other religions."
The second part of the image I get is of that same table, set upright, cleaned off, and ready to accept a new place setting, this time with things that really matter. Could this be the agenda for the future of our church? Maybe these table images are in my head semi-balding head for a reason. Maybe Jesus is trying to tell me something new. Maybe I need to read that story of the money changers again, with new eyes. Maybe I need to think of that clean table, and set it with Kingdom things that really matter, not idle traditions devoid of meaning in the current culture. I am still trying to figure it all out.

One thing I do know. For our church to be vital, alive, and filled with Christ’s presence, its not going to look like it used to.

File under: Church Thoughts
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