Saturday, June 28, 2008

You Should See the View

In my wife's last post from Jerusalem she recounted her final reflections in Jerusalem intermixed with a worship song by David Crowder called, "Only You". She mentioned a line from the song that I never noticed before that completely grabbed a hold of me. The line is at the end of the song and it says, "I will worship you Lord, Only You Lord... Its only you and me here now... You should see the view, when its only me and you".
The line, "You should see the view, when its only me and you" is such a great reminder to take time to get away from all of the "to do" lists, the wants, the stresses, and even your favorite past-times to sit and "see the view" of God in all of His majesty. This doesn't mean to go hide in the mountains for a few days or to travel to the beach at sunset to see the view, it simply means to take a moment to sit back and notice how a God that is so big and powerful can actually love you in all of your "humanness". He sees our selfishness, our doubts, our rage, our envy, and our arrogance and he takes it all with patience and extends love and grace. When we step outside of ourselves for a moment and gaze upon anyone who takes all of our worst and does not give us what we deserve it is truly an amazing site.
Now that my family is back in America we are faced with more unknowns that we ever had in Israel. We are heading into an adventure we never thought we would head into and one that only God knows how it will all turn out. In the midst of this time we feel small, faithless, insecure, unqualified, and unworthy. Maybe this is how Peter felt after he denied knowing Christ before his crucifixion, or how Paul felt when he realized the gravity of his hateful acts directed against followers of Jesus before his conversion, or even how Abraham must have felt when God told him to gaze upon the stars and know that God will be faithful to all that he promised. I imagine the view at that point must have been amazing when each of these people recognized that their God's love never ends, His mercy never tires, and His promises never fail.
Last week my heart dropped when Israel, along with this chapter in our lives, faded in the distance out of the window of our plane. On the horizon was a world of unknowns that will test our faith, our loyalty, and our certainty of all of God's promises. But also on the horizon is the most amazing view and that is of the Risen Messiah who restores when I doubt, who repairs when I fail, and who leads into the future when I am stuck in the past.
In the moments when I take the time to open my eyes and gaze upon this God, I am amazed at what I see.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Finishing

My wife said that I cheated on my last post by just posting a link. That may be true but this is our last week in Israel and I am trying to finish papers, see some last minute sites, and pack up the house for the journey back to America. Okay, no more excuses, maybe in a day or two I will have something meaningful to say.... assuming I ever have something meaningful to say.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Confessions of a Church Pirate

As many of our friends know, my wife and I have decided to enter the crazy world of church leadership in the form of a new church that will hopefully begin sometime in the fall of this year. (Read the previous post for the official announcement). In doing this, the one thing that is the most difficult for us, and especially for my wife, is the scrutiny and the criticisms that could possibly come our way.

One of the comments on the previous post was simply an anonymous link to a 7 minute video of a pastor criticizing people who plant churches in the area of their former church. In this video, he classifies these church planters as "Church Pirates". Although we have not determined where this new church will meet nor have we even done the things criticized in the video, I assume this link was designed to be a criticism of me and therefore I guess, to some, I am a Pirate.

My first response was to defend myself and fight back but I was reminded by my wife that this gets us nowhere and even takes us away from the important fights so instead allow me to share some other perspectives.

I used to criticize people who moved to Orange County to plant churches. I believed that we had enough churches and these people just wanted to live where the weather was nicer. I even worked at a church that saw a significant amount of people leave with one of the pastors to begin a new church in the area and my initial response was to be critical of this new gathering. About 3 years ago I had to recognize this judgmental attitude in myself and I needed to repent and become a supporter of these endeavors. Like the Rabbi Gamaliel says in Acts 5:38-39, "if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God." Instead of questioning what very well could be genuine calls from God, I had to become a friend and an ally with those working for the same cause.

The second thing that happened after I realized how selfish I can be sometimes was I realized that there was no way Orange County could ever have too many churches. I did the math in my hometown one day and realized that if every person in our town wanted to go to church on the same day, each church would average over 1000 people. The fact that over 25 million people live in Southern California means that more people live in this region than in any other state in the country and it is more people than the 19 least populated states combined. In other words, the fact that this is the most populated and perhaps the most diverse part of the country means that we need many different churches to work together to bring the Good News of Jesus to our community.

I don't like that I had to "eat my words" and become the very person I used to criticize but it is a reminder that the measure we use to judge will be used against us. I may have learned my lesson this time but I know that to some I will always be a Church Pirate. (For added interest, read what I wrote about pirates two years ago Click Here ).

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Father's Day

When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years. ~ Mark Twain

My childhood should have taught me lessons for my own fatherhood, but it didn't because parenting can only be learned by people who have no children.
Bill Cosby

No matter how calmly you try to referee, parenting will eventually produce bizarre behavior, and I'm not talking about the kids. Their behavior is always normal.
Bill Cosby

Parents are not interested in justice, they are interested in peace and quiet. - Bill Cosby

Nothing I've ever done has given me more joys and rewards than being a father to my children. - Bill Cosby

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Shaping of the Church (The New Edition )

When we decided to move to Israel many people wondered what was wrong with us. Why leave a perfectly stable life and plunge into the great unknown. The truth is that when I first proposed the idea to my wife I thought she would say that I was crazy and not to even think about it but she actually said that this sounded good. (Not because she actually thought the lack of stability and that unknown is good, just that she thought it would be a worth while experience.) As we have been working out details for our return to America, it was our desire to find a place to live and work where we could be excited about the vision and where we would feel that we were being faithful with our own giftedness.
To make the story short, in the end we decided to do something that would only extend our season of "unknown" and instability. No, we are not going to sell our house and invest everything in "silent velcro". We have decided to do something we never thought we would do and something that will require even more faith than moving the family to the Middle East. We have decided to join with a group of people in beginning a new church in Southern California.
I have spent many years of my life cynical of "church plants" because so many of them appeared to be people simply wanting to duplicate what was already being done. In some cases that criticism was correct, in others I am sure that I was very wrong. Now, I get to be one of those who will stand under scrutiny and criticism for planting a church.
What has fueled this whole process is my own personal struggle with consumer Christianity and my own belief that the Bride of Christ (the Church) should be a place where everyone can find love and grace. It is motivated by my conviction that Christians need to live in mission to everyone all the time and not to see mission as "bringing your friends to church". These, along with countless other similar convictions ultimately led us to this decision.
I would be lying to you if I said that we had no reservations or fears as it relates to this decision but I would be lying to myself if I did not recognize the fact that I am a dreamer who believes that things can be better. When I say things can be better I am referring to people like me who have lost touch with Church as we know it. I believe there are many great churches doing good things but they tend to connect with certain types of people and a growing numbers of others are longing for something different. So because my family is filled with adrenaline junkies (especially my wife), this next year will be filled with many of the same unknowns and adventures as this year... we will just have Cipotle Burritos and Target Stores to ease the occasional pains.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

A Good Fight

A few days ago I was siting on an Arab bus on my way to the Palestinian capital of Ramallah when something occurred to me. As I sat there as the only "white" person and presumably the only Christian on the way to a city that is listed as a "Don't be a fool and go there" city on the State Department web-site, I realized that I felt more comfortable in that setting than most bus rides on the other side of the security fence.
It is not because the Jewish Israelis are out to get me or ever have even given me a threatening look, but I think on that bus there is a sense of camaraderie between those of us who are the "underdogs" in Israel. I began thinking about this and realized that I have always wanted to fight against the "bullies" in the world. I guess I struggle with those who have power and who have an incessant need to wield that power. When encountering those who dominate or hurt others because they can, something rises up inside me that makes me want to fight, or at the very least it makes me want to stand alongside those who bear the brunt of that misdirected power.
Throughout the Hebrew Scriptures and the entire New Testament, we see how clearly God also stands with those without power. Do you realize that there are more verses in the Bible about taking care of the orphans and widows (a metaphor for the weak) and those without a voice than about any other subject? Take the examples from Jesus' life, he fought with those in power when it had to do with neglecting the needs of hurting people. (Healing on the Sabbath, eating with "drunkards and sinners", and challenging people to work on justice more than religious appearance were the points of conflict with religious leaders of His day). Unfortunately today, our political leaders, many of our church leaders, our employers, and even "average Joes" consistently find ways to dominate others out of a need for control and power.
Before I sound "holier than thou" I confess that my desire to stand for the weak really is just a gut reaction and unfortunately does not always come from a desire to be like Jesus. But I do think that this is at the heart of God and this attitude is the foundation for pure religion (James 1:26) and one that followers of the Messiah Jesus should embrace whole-heartily.
Rob Bell once said that "people go looking for fights because they are not already in one". What he meant by that is people who want to fight about trivial things or who cause problems with others by misusing their power, do so because they are not already fighting for something more valuable. As for me, I like a good fight so I hope and pray that I can keep the names and faces of those who need someone standing by them in my mind and if I ever become a bully to someone, please remind me of bus 18 to Ramallah.