Saturday, November 20, 2010

Struck By Grace

To be struck by grace does not mean that we are simply making progress in our moral self-control, in our fight against special faults, and in our relationships to others. Moral progess may be a fruit of grace, but it is not grace itself.

Grace strikes us when we are in great pain and restlessness. It strikes us when we walk through the dark valley of a meaningless and empty life... grace strikes us when our disgust for our own being, our indifference, our weakness, our hostility, and our lack of direction and composure have become intolerable to us.

Sometimes at that moment a wave of light breaks into our darkness and it is as though a voice were saying, "You are accepted. You are accepted by that which is greater than you... Do not seek for anything; do not perform anything; do not intend anything. Simply accept the fact that you are accepted."

If that happens to us, we experience grace. After such an experience we may not be better than before, and we may not believe more than before. But everything is transformed.

- Paul Tillich "The Shaking of the Foundations"

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Veterans Day


Take time today to say "Thank You" to the men and women who serve their county and to pray for those in danger and who have lost their lives in war. You don't have to believe in war to care for our soldiers.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Some Things are Just Plain Stupid


I try to keep a pretty open mind about things and I have learned not to be overly critical of people and some of the things people do. I may hear a terrible song on the radio and want to say how awful it is but then I realize some mother has this song hanging on her refrigerator door (figuratively of course). In other words, one man's junk may be another man's (or mother's) treasure.

There are a few things however, that can't be accepted even by a mother. No matter how you explain it, some things are just stupid. I mean extreme things like turtleneck sweaters, Steven Segall Movies, non-fat sour cream, and Hulk Hogan. If it weren't for it's recent resurgence, I would include 1980's fashion on this list but too many may have an issue with that one.

One thing I heard today fits this category above and beyond the rest. It is an advertisement that regularly plays on sports radio. It is an ad that say's "don't let drinking and driving ruin your life.... call our law offices and we will get your conviction dropped". The ad ends with a tag phrase that says, "Friends don't let friends plead guilty to drinking and driving".

Seriously? Enough people actually think driving drunk shouldn't be a big deal? Over 40,000 people die each year in traffic accidents involving a driver with a BAC over .08%. In fact, 47% of all driving fatalities are caused from drunk driving. Somehow this ad was made in the first place and then accepted by the marketing department of the radio station and apparently not offensive to anyone. This add basically says, "It isn't fair if your state enforces the law and punishes you for breaking it. It is not right that you might face jail time, a suspended license, and even pay a fine just because you only care about yourself. Let us help you be even more self-centered and help you not learn from your mistakes."

This is just stupid.

(The photo on the top is of a DUI lawyer)

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Cost of Growth

Statistics say that new churches (or church plants) see nearly 100% turnover in the first three years of existence. Normally most of the key people who are not paid move on to new locations in this timeframe.

Several factors likely contribute to this turnover but the root of all of it comes down to a reality of any new church or business organization. In order to move from inception to a self sustaining existence, a great deal of sacrifice must be made.

In the case of new churches, the sacrifice comes in the form of hundreds of hours of volunteered time and above and beyond levels of financial commitments. Due to small sizes, those who are a part of something from the beginning are usually asked and sometimes demanded to give more and more in order to contribute to overall success. A dilemma exists that says, “if you don’t give more of yourself now, we can’t grow to the place where you won’t have to give as much”.

The question that arises is, “Should a church be built on the sacrifice of its people?” By sacrifice I do not mean a commitment to God that may lead to uncomfortable choices, but I do mean a sacrifice that is in the name of service but that comes at a price to relational and sometimes physical well-being.

We are now 2 years into our new church in Orange County and we have fought against the notion of demanding more and more from our people but we do have things that get left undone. We are committed to Christ and want our whole lives to be in service of God (and others) but we believe that God ultimately will build (or not build) our local church. I personally fight against the notion of sacrificing “workers” to build the organization but wonder if we will ever attain a self-sustaining existence with this attitude. Is it worth abandoning some of our ideals in hopes of attracting more people?

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Theology of Estrangement


I've noticed a troubling trend this past year that has finally reached a point in which I must comment. It is a trend that causes relationships between people of the same faith (Christians) to part ways. Little explanation is given and one side of the the equation is usually left alone wondering what went wrong.

Two scenarios illustrate what I am speaking about:
1) A person or group of people are shunned by other Christians because of decisions they have made. These decisions are usually (but not always) poor decisions that are evidence of sin in the lives of the offending party. These sinners are then shunned for "discipline" and/ or because they are simply no longer worthy of Christian company.

We have a friend who was actually abandoned by all of her close Christian friends because she was dating a "non-Christian". She lost all touch in the church world and eventually married her boyfriend. Instead of being a source of encouragement and a picture of Jesus to her new boyfriend, her church modeled, "members only, dress code required". As a result, she never reconnected in a church community and the hurt continues to this day.

2) The second trend I see is Christian friendships ending because of different views about God. Since the differences that have been disputed over the past 2000 years do not have a clear and undisputed winner, it is strange to me that friendships should dramatically weaken and even end when these differing views are considered. Clearly our thoughts about God may cause us to find deeper connection and friendship with others who are like-minded, but should this mean other relationships end?

I personally experienced this year with one person who was close to me. We enjoyed conversations about life and God and in the past few years our views about God drifted further apart. We both believe in the Bible, we both believe that Jesus is Lord and that salvation is found by God's grace, through faith. Our differences are small and in my mind non-essentials, but that sentiment is not reciprocated.

At the end of a healthy conversation filled with questions, encouragement, and some debate, I mentioned that I would love to meet again soon. My friend said, "Well, maybe not". This "maybe not" was because of differences in our views about God and mainly how the mystery of salvation works.

Later I discovered that I was not alone in this treatment from others with similar views to my friend. Somehow the deep rooted conviction about how God works (which we will never really know until we die) is strong enough to result in estranged friendships and, at times, even estranged family relationships. This is a theology that takes lightly Jesus' ministry of reconciliation. It is a lifestyle that longs to know mysterious ways of God's grace, but does not long to extend this scandalous grace to others.

I encourage everyone on any side of theology (or lack there of) to consider the entire consequence of actions. If you believe your theology is worth more than relationships, then your theology says God is not concerned with harmonious relationships. If you do not freely offer grace, then your theology says your God does not freely offer grace. If you don't want to love those who are adverse to the message of Jesus, than your theology says Jesus does not love those who opposed him. If this fires you up and even makes you angry, I want to hear your thoughts. I truly want a better understanding of the basis for this theology of estrangement.

***** Please note that there are many who still hold to the same theological views I question in this post who DO still love, offer grace, and maintain friendships. I deeply appreciate those friends and respect their convictions and will love them and support them in their own journeys with Christ. ****

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Paradox of Faith

Everyone who was great in this world will be remembered.. but everyone was great in his own way, and everyone in proportion to the greatness of what he loved. He who loved himself became great in himself, and he who loved others became great through his devotion; but he who loved God became greater than all.

They shall all be remembered, but everyone became great in proportion to his expectancy. One became great through expecting the possible, another by expecting the eternal; but he who expected the impossible became greater than all.

They shall all be remembered, but everyone was great in proportion to the magnitude of what he strove with. For he who strove with the world became great by conquering the world, he who strove with himself became greater by conquering himself; but he who strove with God became greater than all.

...There was one who relied upon himself and gained everything, and one who, secure in his own strength, sacrificed everything; but greater than all was the one who believed God. There was one who was great in his strength, and one who was great in his wisdom, and one who was great in hope, and one who was great in love; but greater than all was Abraham, great with the power whose strength is powerlessness, great in that wisdom whose secret is folly, great in that hope whose outward form is insanity, great in love which is (hatred) of self. - Soren Kierkegaard

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Enemy at the Gated Community

com-fort- n. 1. State of physical ease and freedom from pain or constraint.

Recently I have been thinking about all of the things that led to my leaving my previous job and moving across the world. Although I could list a whole series of events that contributed to the eventual upheaval of my whole life, it all really came down to a simple need for change.
Change is often the solution when life becomes so comfortable that the sense of purpose gets lost in routine. In Orange County, the challenge is that life is designed to be comfortable. One could argue that the very goal of life here is comfort. Planned communities, man-made lakes, manicured landscaping and perpetually updated shopping centers are the norm. The weather fluctuates between a frigid 65 and a balmy 85 degrees.
Churches contribute to this environment of comfort by striving to offer “something for everyone”. The pressure to provide “the best” drives many pastors away from ministry or away from the very reasons they begin ministry in the first place. If pastors are unable to lead a church that makes people comfortable then they are often driven away or criticized to the point of insanity.
In my previous role I did not directly face the challenge to provide comfort for everyone, but I certainly fell into the trap of being content with a comfortable setting. I was in a place that seemed unwilling to break out of the norm and to ask the question, “What if God wants more from us?” In time, I fell victim to the culture of comfort in my own church and my own level of ennui reached a climax. It was then that I realized that the only thing that could help me break free was a major change.
It has now been over 3 years since I quit my job and moved away and I am grateful for the changes that came as a result of that move. But today I must stand on guard against the enemy of comfort in my own faith and now in my new church. I must keep watch that my marriage and relationships do not suffer from comfort (in this case, comfort because we settle for things as they are and not how they could be). As Donald Miller says, “a good story is about a character who knows what he wants and overcomes obstacles to get it”. In order to overcome obstacles we must fight the urge to remain comfortable and we must seek a life of adventure and wonder. Beware, because the biggest obstacle that may stand between you and something great could be a sense of comfort.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Tweet Sized Information


We can all officially say that the fad of using blogs for conversation and even as personal online journals is passed. It is not that some of us do not still appreciate this medium for sharing thoughts it is just that facebook and Twitter (both of which I also use) have shortened out attention spans even more than before.

We now want to hear thoughts in 180 characters or less and we don't really want to comment. Is this because we are too busy or is it that the blog world became so watered down that no one really liked the content anymore? WIth short status updates we can be poignant with out own thoughts and not feel like we waste time reading rants that are intended to solicit comments from like-minded readers.

What implications will this new infatuation with "Tweet-Sized" information have on the future of print communications? Dostoyevsky beware!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Heretics

I used to joke that my goal as a teacher within the Christian church is to one day be labeled as a "heretic". This anomalous aspiration is not an attestation of a peculiar pursuit of a pagan personality but rather a quirky love of being different. The truth is that I never want to be labeled a heretic because I am in disagreement with the Bible and the truth of God but I have no problem standing against interpretations of man.

The root of the word "heretic" is actually opinion. Over the years this term developed into a word representing, "a person who thinks what is contrary to what is generally accepted". The reality is that the Bible has been subject to a myriad of human interpretations from the very beginning and after filtering through cultural and personal presuppositions, the "generally accepted opinions" may still fall short in light of the perfection of God's message and character.

Over the centuries very Godly and well-intentioned men and women have come to differing opinions and understanding of what is orthodoxy (right thinking) and orthopraxy (right living). Sometimes these differences led to unfortunate results for both the individuals and for the collective reputation of God's gathering of followers (the Church).

It seems no matter what stand one makes, he or she may be labeled as a heretic from others with a different view. So with this in mind... if you were to be labeled a "heretic" for one of your beliefs, in which belief are you okay with earning this reputation?
In other words, what belief do you hold that are so sure of that the label of "heretic" would not offend you?

Monday, March 29, 2010

2010 Census

Check all that apply:

( ) Hispanic Origin
( ) Japanese
( ) Chinese
( ) Korean
( ) Vietnamese
( ) Indonesian
( ) Pacific Islander
( ) Indian
( ) A Country ending in Stan
( ) Persian
( ) Arab
( ) Egyptian
( ) Native American (Specify Tribe)
( ) African American
( ) Mediterranean European
( ) Other
( ) White-bread

I'm last again.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Jesus


"The truth of the matter is that I am motivated by scholarly interest to learn as much as I can about Jesus, but at the same time being a practicing Jew and not a Christian, I am independent of any church. I readily admit, however, that I personally identify myself with Jesus' Jewish weltanschauung, both moral and political, and I believe that the content of his teachings and the approach he embraced have always had the potential to change our world and prevent the greatest part of evil and suffering."
- David Flusser

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Happy St. Urho's Day


A great thing about America is that we are so diverse that we are willing to celebrate holidays from other countries. We drink Margaritas and eat Mexican food on Cinco De Mayo, Corned Beef and Cabbage and drink Guniess for St. Pat's Day, and Hamburgers and Sam Adams for the 4th of July.
The thing that makes us great also makes us ridiculous. How many of us actually are Irish, Mexican, or American yet we still celebrate the respective holidays.
So in honor of all of the nationalities that are left out and because half of my blood is from Finland I wish you all a St. Urho's Day.
Despite the fact that over 80% of Finland is Lutheran and the other 20% is non-religious and therefore no feasts of the Saints are actually recognized, some Finnish people have created this glorious day. It is on this day that we celebrate St. Urho's feat of chasing frogs out of Finland and presumably all the way to the Vatican so that the frogs will not eat all of the mosquitos.( I made up the last part about mosquitos but judging from the upper mid-west, this must be the truth).
On this day we drink "feelia sour" which is sour whole milk (again probably taken from Minnesota dairy farmers) and we eat "kala mojaka" which is fish soup.
It is conveniently celebrated on March 16th because the food is one step better than boiled meat of the Irish Peasants. So enjoy the day and remember the Finnish people that have also brought us ice fishing, cribbage, snow, and full-bodied thermal underwear with buttons in the butt. Kippis!

Monday, March 01, 2010

Celebrate the Resurrection?




After working on church staffs for many years I have been a part of tons of worshipful Easter Sundays and tons of less worshipful ones. Something happens to church planners when we think of the possibility of more people than usual attending our services. For some reason, many churches decide that this should be a day dedicated to entertainment in order to help the less committed feel comfortable in church.

Two Questions:
Does this create a problem in light of the old theory of "how you win them is how you keep them" comes up.

When thinking of Easter Sunday, is this a day when we should cater to the masses in hopes of attracting a few new converts or is this a day for the devoted to celebrate the love the Savior has for us all?

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Gospel or Jesus?


In my local church community we are looking at the book of Philippians which is one of my favorite of Paul's writings. One thing that comes through in this letter that he wrote is that he has joy in his life because of the great news (gospel) of Jesus Christ. He has joy because the people in Philippi journeyed with him in defending and living out the ways of Jesus.

In studying this I noticed that similar language is a re-emerging trend in Christian circles. I hear a lot of talk about the gospel and love for the gospel. One thing that struck me and, quite frankly, concerns me is that I hear of "love for the gospel" and "love for theology" more than I hear "love for Jesus".

I am quite sure the people talking this way are not saying they love a theology more than God so I want to propose this question for a chance for dialogue.

Is there a difference between "loving the gospel" and "loving Jesus". If so what is the difference? If not, why use the terminology that is ambiguous and potentially misleading?

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

The World of Little League

There are many advantages to living where we live. Our weather is almost perfect 10 months of the year, the beach is just a few miles away, we can be snow skiing in the mountains in less than 2 hours, we have all the major sports teams in the area, our schools are fairy solid, and crime is relatively low.

The problem with all of these great things is that millions of other people have figured this out as well and, in my town,
we are unfortunate enough to share this discovery with many affluent people. I'm not against affluence; in fact I wouldn't mind experiencing some every now and then. What I am against is the attitude that comes with many who are affluent.

This year we finally entered the world of Little League Baseball in our town. This is a normal part of growing up in most places, but here in Mission Viejo Little League is where parents begin their crazed passion for making their kids into great athletes and selfish competitors. For those of us who believe that sports are intended to be fun and that they should not require all of our time and money, our kids are at a disadvantage.

My first impression with this new world we have entered came at the first week of practice. The kids were going to practice batting so each kid put on his own personal batting helmet. My son was told that he could not practice batting because he did not have a helmet. When I told the coach that we will not purchase a helmet because the league said they provide them he seemed dumbfounded. He knew that was the league policy but he and the other parents could not fathom a 7 year old baseball player not owning his own helmet. Finally one mother felt so uncomfortable with the absurdity of excluding a kid for this that she went home and got an old one for my boy to use.

We were grateful to her but disappointed that the culture I live in expects everyone to have the best of everything and to teach elitism at such a young age. What happened to the good old days of every kid in the league using the same sweaty and haggard helmets and the whole team sharing one beat up bat? Our uniforms were often recycled and our gloves all belonged to an older brother at some point. If we lost a ball in the bushes we had to look for it and if our cleats were not brand new we could still run fast.

I pray that I can help my boys know that they can be great without all the attitude and all of the newest stuff. I also pray that I can remember that most of these parents are a product of this culture as well and they can benefit as much as me in seeing true contentment and humility modeled.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Ever Lengthening Bucket List

Five years ago my wife and I wrote our "lists for life" that I have commented on previously in this blog. These lists had their names changed to "Bucket Lists" after the movie came out several years ago.
I just found my original list and laughed that only a few items from my 80+ item list had been checked off and many more have been added. Just for fun and my own personal documentation, here is the update:

Since writing the list I have accomplished the following:
1. I have been to 6 new countries and 4 new states. I only have approximately 80 more countries and 3 more US states to visit.

2. I have eaten Alligator in the South.

3. I had communion in Israel.

4. I ate big game in Africa (elephant).

5. Learn Hebrew.

6. Visit 2 new baseball stadiums

7. Scuba Dive in the Carribbean

That's all I have done. Here are the following things that I have done that probably should have been on my list:

1. Live in Israel for about a year.
2. Eat a Gyro and Baklava in Greece
3. Drink Arabic Coffee in Ramalah.
4. Ride a Camel in the Sahara desert and look at the Ancient Pyramids.
5. Climb the pyramid in Chichen Itza (mexico)
6. Celebrate Palm Sunday, Easter, and Christmas in Israel.
7. Have a third kid.
8. Work in a coffee shop
9. Help plant a new church
10. Lose my family in London (for four hours).
11. Drive the Road to Hana and swim in a waterfall with my wife.

It goes to show that the best made plans are simply plans and we never know what other great things may come. In the year ahead I am excited to see what things I might actually check off (or add to be checked off).

Friday, January 22, 2010

Career Progress

My first job during college (other than serving tables at a restaurant) was working with JH students at a local church. It didn't pay much, but it was a great place to learn and grow in my career. I had great mentors, amazing opportunities, and I even had an office.
My office was the old kitchen from the church building that was in use from 1908- 1952. I had to gut it out and throw away 40 years of stuff that was "stored for future use" in my soon to be "state of the art" office. I nearly had to wipe the tears when I threw away Myrtle's flannel graph from 1965 that showed Jesus coming back and defeating the Communist bastard Khrushchev. I'm not sure the word bastard was on there, but any flannel graph depiction of a Russian president as the anti-Christ assumes such language. Once we gut it and cleaned it up, it got some paint and carpet and was ready to go. The problem with the office was that it was in the basement of this old church away from everyone else. The room was heated by an old boiler (covered in asbestos!). Since I was the only one down there the facilities guy refused to turn on the boiler "just so I could have heat". Did I forget to mention that this was in Washington state where it does snow from time to time and when the winter temps never go above 50. This means that the office was seldom warmer than 50 degrees.
I would use a space heater and every single day the facility guy would come into my office and tell me, "The most common cause of fires in churches is the use of space heaters". I would usually respond with something like, "The most common cause of death of youth pastors is hypothermia right in their offices". He would then say, "It beats burning to death" and then he would walk away.
Why do I tell you this story today? Here I am, one Bachelor's degree, one Master's, and some preparatory work towards a PhD later. I have worked full time in various positions for the past 12 years all to now reach the pinnacle of my career. I am in my garage, it is 50 degrees outside and raining (just like old times), and I am wearing my winter coat, my wool hat, and my Christmas snuggie. I breathe hot air into my hands when my fingers begin losing their feel. My paycheck isn't even that much higher than it was when I was 20 years old and my job entailed challenging kids to feed their friends spam while only using their feet and a rubber mallet.
And for some reason, I am content. Like a young punk who is excited to work in the job he wants, I am okay with the cold air and the plywood board resting on bricks for my desktop. I'm okay with working a second job (not unlike serving food) so that I can be a part of something I believe in.
I have all I need in life except for maybe a space heater... but I of course would hate to see the house burn down.

Monday, January 18, 2010

What is so funny about rain?

I live in Southern California where we are in the midst of a 5 year drought. I don't know the exact numbers so I will simply fabricate them but I think we have received around 5-7 inches of rain each of the last 5 years. For friends and family living in my former home in the Seattle area... that amount of rain is what you call a normal winter.

This week we are expecting 7 inches of rain in our town. As I sit in my "office" which is a local coffee shop that has huge windows down the entire wall on two sides I have an amazing view of this rain.
When living in Washington I never really just looked out the windows at the rain. It would be as futile as my looking out the window at the sun in my location. Why stare at something so common?

But today I am amused. Not that it is raining, but the fact that everyone who is getting out of their vehicle comes running through this foreign substance falling from the heavens with smiles on their faces. Surely they are not overcome with joy simply because our reservoirs are filling. (This doesn't really matter because we steal all of our water from Colorado anyway). It can't be that they are elated because the $150 Uggs finally make sense in our Sub-Saharan climate. Perhaps it is possible, but nonetheless dubious that the smiles are coming because the rain tickles.

I think we are all smiling and laughing because all nature declares the wonders of God. The majesty of jagged cliffs, the serenity of bright colors of Spring, and even the terrors of earthquakes and roaring waves. All these declare that we are just small players in a magnificent creation called earth.

In Orange County we hear this symphony declaring God's wonders everyday of the year. We hear the colors of the evening sky declare that God has a preferred palette and we listen to the waves tell us that God's might can be terrifying. But we seldom hear what the rain has to say. We are rarely reminded of the sound of the parched earth gasping with satisfaction after a nice long drink of water. I don't think many of us realize that this makes us smile, but certainly the sound of nature declaring that God is here must touch us all deep in our souls even when we are not looking. It is in these moments that even the most serious face can't help but to grin.

I'm off to splash in some puddles and to listen to the ground laugh along with me.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

What Matters Most?

"[The problem for evangelicals] is that we place doctrinal purity over unity, or we place relational unity over sound doctrine. The reality is that Jesus wants us to be equally committed to both- the peace and purity of the church. When this is not the case, our disunity is a major hinderance to our evangelism and witness to the world. We fail at the final apologetic, our love for one another. If we can agree on the essential matters, the unity of the gospel, then we have a shot at rebuilding the trust and moving forward.

And

"When we become humble in our beliefs, we are willing to see that our own denominations or traditions do not have a corner on all truth, and we become more open to dialogue with other traditions. We might find that we are sometimes wrong and the different perspective will correct our error. But even where we are right, the dialogue can improve, sharpen and enliven our perspective and give nuance to our understandings."

- Jim Belcher in "Deep Church"

Friday, January 08, 2010

What lies ahead

Para mi:
1st draft.
6 schools. Hopefully 3 classes.
One new baseball stadium.
Yellowstone.
Alaska.
Hebrew Advanced.
Greek.
German.
Clay stuff.
25 books.
The Bible.
2 Camps.
Conversions.
Article.
Support.
Fewer Lattes.
3 videos.

For our community:
Multiply.
Worship.
Water.
Baptize.
Camp.
Origins.
Board.
Stained Glass.
Art.
Eph 4.

I think this is all for now. Are we clear?

Monday, January 04, 2010

2009 In Review

* Our new church began meeting in a semi-permanent location
* I baptized 4 people during our Easter Service
* Camped in the Sequoia Forest
* Traveled to Washington State with family
* Traveled to D.C. Baltimore, Virginia, N&S Carolina with Sara
* Checked off two more baseball stadiums on list (D.C. and Baltimore)
* Kids made it to 4th grade and 1st grade
* 12th wedding anniversary
* Only completed about 17 books (I think)
* Watched my dog die
* Began learning German

I did not:
* Complete about a dozen other books laying around the house
* improve my Hebrew as much as desired
* Complete my review of Basic Greek
* Complete writing goals
* Sleep

My "bucket list" for the year is coming soon. I don't make resolutions... just bucket lists in case this be my last year.

Friday, January 01, 2010