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Monday, July 31, 2006

transforming community...

There is something quite exciting about being in a community of faith where God is alive and well. This last week we had our Celebration Service. This is a service we have at the end of every series to celebrate communion, baptisms and stories of God's transforming power. I have yet to walk away from one of these without feeling stimulated to leverage the whole of my life toward the Kingdom of God and His righteousness.

The first story and baptism was of a woman who had lost her job in 2003 at Steelcase. She didn't have a church background growing up, so the option of leaning into a faith community was not in her mind. So she leaned into the bottle and started drowning her fears and frustrations with alchohol. About a year ago, she started coming to Impact and decided to kick the addiction. When she stopped drinking, her body violently reacted to the void of alchohol throwing her vital organs into a war against her choice to pursue freedom. She had a seizure and was bedridden in a hospital for 8 days trying to stay alive. Her liver was shutting down and her body was filling with fluid. She cried out in the hospital bed for God to help her so that she could live with purpose and help people. Over the last year, she has stayed sober and has volunteered in the offices of Impact packing bulletins and making phone calls. She is such a tender heart. The whole time she was sharing her story in church...tears were cascading down her cheeks like a waterfall and dripping to the floor. I thought to myself, "I want the floors of the church soaked with the tears of broken people who have met the Healer." After she shared, I had the privilege of baptizing her. (and she didn't even have a baptism class...can you believe it?) What a story of redemption!

Then we heard stories from three young adults who are from our college/singles ministry that meets on Monday nights called Plug*d. The first shared how he was depressed and searching for something to fill his void of relationships after going to a year of college. He started playing online role playing games and eventually it took over his life. He would sometimes playing 9-10 hours and day and even pulled all-nighters addicted to the pursuit of this mock world of adventure and battle and conquest. His heart was shriveling up and dying and he almost went on anti-depressants because of his reclusive and isolated lifestyle. His heart was filled with dark thoughts and hopelessness. He shared how he came to our church and God started to awaken his heart again. A girl asked him to lead worship for the college group and he wasn't sure he "had the time" what with all the hours spent playing this video game! He started to anyway and found his time crowed with ministry which started to make his habit of video games hard to maintain. Early this year, he was asked to lead the ministry with a group of other students and they challenged him to evaluate his time with his computer. He decided to uninstall the program and to kick this habit. Since, the group has grown from 10 to about 25 or 30 that gather each week and God is really bringing his heart to life. You wouldn't guess by looking at him that this ever had a stranglehold on his heart. He is just impacting so many lifes through his surrender to Christ. What a story of redemption!

The next guy that shared has attended the church for a couple years, but has been experiencing inner battles that few knew about until recently. His parents are getting a divorce and his heart has been journeying through alot of emotions and stresses. Satan is always good at giving us cheap escapes to dull the pain temporarily and he shared how the computer started becoming a conduit of temptation. He really desired to stay pure and so he decided to take his computer out of his house and bring it to the church offices so that he removed the opportunity until his heart grew stronger. I love it when I hear stories of radical amputation as it relates to sin....someone who takes extreme measures to overcome a stronghold. This guy gives himself to ministry around here like there's no tomorrow and his heart is so valuable to the ongoing movement of God at Impact. It's so awesome when someone can step up in front of a body of people and crack open the can of crap so that healing and accountability and conviction can set into the community. You wouldn't believe how people were listening with bated breath as he shared his story of the pursuit of purity in his walk with Christ. I wonder how many were encouraged to address there own battles with deeper diligence. Honesty in church breeds a spirit of truth in a body...and his story certainly unleashed a bit of that! What a story of redemption!

The last testimony was given my a girl who is fresh out of college. She described herself as a person who "denounced Christianity and God" prior to coming to know him personally early this year. It was a story of parties and all that comes with that lifestyle. God was the farthest thing from her mind...or so she thought. She described how much she fought against the Bible and anyone who mentioned their belief in God. She came to see that her fighting against it showed how drawn she was to it. She met a guy from our church who is on fire for God and at first she couldn't stand him. But over time she grew intrigued by his heart for life and God and started asking more questions and seeking the truth. She eventually came to Plug*d and met a bunch of other young adults her age pursuing truth. Her first time attending, she mentioned to Dave (the guy in the former paragraph) that she wasn't much into the Bible and so Dave said, "Then lets go buy you one so you can read it for yourself." They took off to go Bible shopping. As she's continued reading and exploring the claims of Christ and the life of following his heart, she continues to grow in her knowledge and love for Jesus. I love how much she craves the truth, she seeks it with her whole heart. Her smile refreshed our church and makes the life of God so attractive to those in search just as she was only 7 months ago. Instead of filling her life with sex and beer and hollywoods lie of womanhood, she is starting to renew her mind, heart, soul and spirit with God's refreshing words of truth. In her relationship with Lee (the guy who led her to Jesus), she is desiring, along with him, to pursue purity in thier relationship until marriage. There was a whole row of young girls crying as she shared her heart's desire. I know God used her to impact many this weekend. My wife, Heidi, baptized her following the third service. How sweet was the sound of people applauding when she came out of the water soaked in the symbolic waters of renewal and restoration. What a story of redemption!

I met scores of new guests that were coming for the first time this weekend. A man starting a business in Lowell, a family looking to plug into an alive setting that will energize their teenagers, a young couple invited by their friends exporing this community of faith, a women who has a burden for her husband to be restored from a hurtful experience in their former church, a man who come up to me and said, "I want to be a warrior for God", a girl who said that she desires to be pure in the world...and the lives go on and on.

Like I said, what a privilege it is to be a part of the moving heart of God. He is still hanging around.

We concluded with communion whereby we celebrating the death and life of Jesus and it's transforming power. "He was torn apart so we could be put back together." That is the story of the gospel in a nutshell. That is the hope of the world. We concluded singing a song that I wrote a while back. It was beautiful to hear people (Christians and pre-Christians) united around these words as we headed back into our week...

"Beautiful Bread, Wonderful Wine
The Shadow of Death
the Symbol of Life
We hold in our hands
The body and blood of Christ…


Remembering when Your life fell apart
As the Light of the World
hung alone in the dark
like a Lamb You were slain
to remove every stain in my heart…


Chorus:
In remembrance of all of the blood that You bled,
In remembrance of every tear that You shed,
In remembrance of when Your flesh tore apart,
In remembrance of every break of Your heart..
I remember You…
I'll always remember You.

Bridge:
I remember when the sky grew dark,
As nature wept and watched You die.

I remember when You breathed Your last,
As time stood still and Heaven cried, and Heaven cried…"


It's a great day to be alive, is it not?

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

This just came into my head...

There's no rush without risk.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

the album is at hand...

A year after we frequented the studio and plowed through a week of hard core recording, I recieved the mastered copy of the project. We are now sending it away for packaging and duplication....a 1000 copies to be dispursed wherever God sees fit. This is where excitement and fear mingle ever so fluidly together. I'm so excited about giving this to friends and family and seeing if God might want to take these songs and spread them across the world for His people to sing back to Him. I'm also afraid that the dreams in my heart will be dashed in the coming weeks...that somehow all the heart energy and passion that went into this will not turn out to have the affect I hoped for. That's the scary thing about hope...it sets you up for disappointment. I could lie and say that I don't care what happens...but that would be hogwash, which is the Greek word for Nonsense. I do care...these songs are close to my heart and i want to see them go and stir hearts to worship God really hard. Really, really hard.

So much time invested, so much heart poured out, so much money given...

what will God do next...

that's the x-factor...

God, praise awaits you...

Monday, July 24, 2006

A Christianity that has teeth...

I don't have time to wrap context around the story I'm about to share, so you'll have to fill in the blanks. I feel compelled to write just briefly about a moment this morning that gives reason to being. Being alive. Being a human. Being an echo of a greater sound, a reflection of a bigger substance, a taste of a more delicious reality.

On Father's Day (for lack of the time to relay this amazing story), the men of our church rose up and raised $4,500 in two days in order to put "teeth" in the mouth of one of our brothers. This man had been without teeth for a few months and the dentists where telling him they needed more money than originally projected to complete his dentures. He had already taken out a loan for $2000 and didn't have the money to even really do that...so he was up a creek without a paddle. He is a great guy with a huge heart and even though he was going through this incredible ordeal, he still gave a toothless smile and carried on with strength.

Well, this morning, this guy came into my office and showed me his new smile. We embraced and sat down and talked for about an hour about God, life and how amazing it is when you're a part of a community of faith that "puts their money where someone else's mouth is"...ha...I couldn't resist that little play on words! That's what the body of Christ should be, a group of humans captured by the spirit of God and living to make that love a practical and magical reality in other people's lives. The gospel can be summed up in a phrase, "See a need, meet a need." If it's clothes, then give clothes; if it's counsel, then give a listening ear; if it's money, then open your wallet and make a donation; if it's food, then open your cupboard and share the goods; if it's teeth, then for crying out loud...gather a group of wild men together and put teeth in the brother's mouth for the love of God!! And that is what has happened to this man. As I looked upon his face that looked 20 years younger and gazed upon his new smile, I saw the power of the gospel when it's lived instead of talked about.

Scott, enjoy your new smile in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Monday, July 17, 2006

a night to remember...

Last week, I took Kami and Aly on a Daddy date. Heidi took Taylor to a birthday party for one of her friends...it was her first one. You could tell she was swollen with pride that finally she had a birthday party to attend without her two obnoxious sisters. She came home with candy and more stories than her mouth could move fast enough to tell. It was cute.

As she ate candy, played games and enjoyed the borderline baby talk of toddlers, I took the other two out for dinner. Kami said she wanted to go to a restaurant with "servants"...I told her that our culture liked to call them waiters and waitresses, but she cared very little about political correctness. Just then, an idea ran through my mind. I asked them if they wanted to get dressed up all fancy like we were going to a ball. Their eyes widened with glee and before I could say "Bipity, bopity, boo", they were upstairs picking out dresses to wear. I told them I would dress in my finest apparel as well. This was going to be a night to remember.

I got home from work and they were already dressed to the hilt. Heidi had done up their hair with hairspray and the whole bit. They looked like porcelain dolls. They dragged me upstairs to change my clothes. Aly asked me if I would get that stuff off my face like I do when I go out with mommy. I told her they're called "whiskers". She said, "Yeah, the whiskers...get them off." Kami then asked me to wear the cologne that I wear when I go on dates with Heidi. They love the smell of Nautica. I splashed it on my neck and they asked me to bend down so they could take it in. Kami smelled it and grabbed my leg and gave it a bear hug...her face tightened with the delight of a thousand fairies. Though it didn't go with the outfits they were wearing, they started jumping and carrying on like a couple of deranged lunatics. But quickly they regained their composure and moved toward the downstairs with restrained euphoria.

We got in the car and started heading to the big city for dinner. Kami wanted to go to Applebees; Aly couldn't have cared less just so long as the place where we went was filled with people that would gaze upon her beauty. We hadn't so much as left our driveway when Aly said to me, "Daddy, you look kinda handsome." I grabbed her hand and held it tightly.

It was a rainy night, so I told them that when we got to the restaurant, I would get close to the door and carry them in one at a time. They obliged. When I got them in out of the rain, I parked the car and ran to meet them in then entryway. We walked into the restaurant hand in hand and the minute we crossed the threshold, the hosts and hostesses just doted all over us. They asked if there was a daddy/daughter dance and Kami said, "No, we are on a Daddy date." They giggled and told their fellow employees to come and see. It was on the brink of embarrassing, but the girls were soaking it in like sponges. The hostess told us to follow her and we cut through the restaurant all the way to the back. This meant that everyone sitting at their tables was given the unique privilege of seeing us make our way to our seats. People were waving and smiling and offering words of blessing and merriment. People were tapping each others shoulders and pointing. I felt like I was walking my daughters down the aisle for their weddings...it was crazy!

We got to our seats and ordered our drinks. They wanted the kind of special glasses that people have when they are having fancy dinners...wine glasses to be exact. I asked the "servant" if that was possible and she shook her head, "Sorry, they have to be 21." I laughed and asked again if it would be ok if they just had juice in them. She again encouraged me to think about the way it would look to others if two little girls were sporting wine glasses with "juice" in them. I guess I never thought about it quite like that. She did get us glasses and put a little cocktail straw in them with a bunch of cherries. That was good enough to put the girls on cloud nine.

Our waitress treated them like royalty. She kept asking if she could get them something else and regularly asked them if they wanted refills. Every time she would leave the table, every time, they would say, "Its fun to have a servant. Dad, could we get a servant at our house?" I promply told them about the civil war and the blood that was shed to abolish that sort of thing. They didn't get it. Too many Disney movies.

We got a dessert and shared it. We devoured it like ravenous wolves. They had ice cream covering their beautiful faces...dripping off their chins. It was befitting in a sort of ironic way. Little girls aren't ever as beautiful as when they are unfettered from the rigidity of customs. When they throw their hair back and gnaw on an ear of corn. When they run outside without their shoes on and come back with black dirt in between their toes and under their toe nails. When they run through sprinklers and lean back on the tire swing. This is when a girl is at her best.

When I cleaned them up, we made our way home. I opened the doors for them and we listened to our "Journey" cd on the way home. There's just something about the love songs of Journey that makes my heart melt. I held their hands and we talked about the fun we had all the way to our house. What an evening.

Dates with daughters are essential to forming and forging their feminine soul. Dates with daughters are essential to forming and forging my masculine soul. I don't think they understand that I need them as much as they do. There's something about spending time with them that keeps something young inside me. Something that was never meant to grow old. My heart.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

note to the band...

I send a weekly note to the worship band trying to encourage and challenge them as we prepare our hearts for each weekend of leading the rest of the body in musical worship. This is the note I sent this week...I include it because it shows some of what God is doing in my heart currently...

Note to the band:

It seems to me that once you catch a vision for something, you can't go back to the way it was before. My whole life could be summed up in that one sentence. Once you taste something fresher, truer, deeper, richer...it's impossible to supress what you've experienced and make like it didn't happen. It arouses something inside of you, wakes something from a terrible infinite slumber that has silenced and deafened the core of who you are, your heart.

I can vividly remember moments in my past when I encountered something that would forever change the tragectory of my life direction. Meeting certain people, going certain places, hearing certain songs, having certain conversations, seeing certain movies, watching certain tragedies unfold, feeling certain emotions surface...these things shave and shape, mold and make you who you are and who you will become.

Worship is like this. When you engage it on a level that is special...you aren't satisfied until you return to that pure and passionate place. When you see the freedom of an atmosphere, the power of a presence, the passion of a people lost in God's greatness...it's hard to come back to predictable, rote, and banal church sing alongs. You want to be unleashed again. You want to be unhindered again, you want to be unabashed again. You want to be overtaken, taken over. You can't just stand and sing songs into a mic or into thin air, you have to sing them into the heart of God with piercing and personal love. You realize more is going on than sound bytes flying through the building. God is afoot, his presence astir, his love afresh.

I hope that you are allowing yourself to be consumed by God in worship. I hope you aren't standing at a distance singing words across a huge chasm of cold space. I hope you are drawing near in your heart to His. I hope you are letting the words flood in and flow out. I hope you are spending time at home with this God and inviting him over to your world as often as you can. I hope you don't just meet with Him at church...He's bigger than that; He's better than that.

I just feel like the last few weeks my spirit is deeply sensitive to these things in my own life. I feel awakened to the need for a deeper consciousness in my worship. I want to be zealous in my preparation to meet with God and in my actualizing of worship, and in my response to having worshipped in song. This has to be more than music and those moments on that stage...if it's not, nothing is actually happening on that stage at all, despite what we may percieve as humans so easily fooled by the flesh. This has to be our vision as a band or we will not only lose focus, we will lose God.

I'm sensing God stirring something special as of late. I hope you are sensing that as well. These last several weeks have been quite powerful and personal. I see God engaging people's hearts left and right...and it's downright bodacious. I've been praying for you guys, that God would lead you and follow you and come along side you all at the same time each and every day of the week. I hope you are reading the Psalms and getting swallowed by God.. I can't wait to see you this weekend for our gatherings...God will move again and we will get to be a part of it.

Monday, July 10, 2006

the death of a church...

While I was at my parents house for some much needed vacation rest, I was talking to my dad about the church I grew up in my whole life, Southwest Oswego Baptist Church. It was an independent Baptist church sitting on a street corner, purched on a hill. It was white, with a church bell that used to ring in the morning service way back in the day. There were 80 members, give or take a soul, and some singing led my dad that literally blew off the roof. I don't know what led so many uninhibated people, who loved to sing, to gather together in one spot, but the volume in that little sancuary was incredible. Especially when we would sing, "He lives" or "To God be the Glory". For all the things that could of been done better, taught better, or modeled differently, it was an alive church, well, as alive as a KJV only, Primary Separationalist, Bob Jonesy church can be.

I drove by the church on a Wed. night when they traditionally have what is called, "Prayer Meeting"...which is usually more meeting than prayer. There were three cars in the huge parking lot. This didn't surprise me since my dad shared that the church had dwindled to 16 people on a Sunday morning, part of which is the pastor's family. The church voted to see whether this pastor that contributed to the dismantling of this body should be asked to leave. He received a little over 50% of the votes that affirmed he should stay, and against better judgement in my opinion, he obliged. Granted a good portion of the votes where family members who would probably have to memorize large portions of the Bible as punishment if they didn't capitulate. (and we know what happens when reading the Bible is used as punishment, we crank out Marilyn Mansons). So anyway, he is bound and determined to go down with the ship. How honorable.

I drove by the little white church in which I was taught about Jesus and my heart sank at the thought of the doors being closed permenantly. How could just a few short years bring in two new pastors who could collectively destroy a body of vibrant, teachable, country folk who just want to simply follow the teaching of Jesus? Why are pastors so arrogant and aloof? What are they teaching these guys in seminary? What is their demeanor, their countenance, their philosophy, their take on God that is just devestating the movement of God in rural country churches? It's unnerving. I get incensed at the thought of these two men coming into the church that provided a greenhouse of growth for my young soul and sindlehandedly killing it in five years. It just ruined me when I was home.

But maybe God wants it to die. Maybe he wants churches like that to go away. For all its contribution to my soul and spirit, it did leave a sour taste in my mouth at times growing up that could have easily caused me to rebel where it not for my refreshing family life. There was a Baptist only mentality that spoke often against cooky Chrismatics, liberal Lutherans, and mislead Methodists. "They believe in tongues, can you believe it? And they believe in the mid- trib. rapture of the church, and they believe you can lose your salvation, and they believe in sprinkling babies, and they dont' believe in exclusive baptism by immersion, and they preach watered down topical messages, and they are growing because they are appealing to the flesh, and they have drums in their church, and Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh my!!" It spoke against rock beat in music, against girls wearing shorts or pants, against going to the movies, against public school education, against, against, against, against. It seemed that so much of the message was what we were against instead of what we were for. That was the tone, that was the spirit. We are right, they are wrong. We are in, they are out. We are called, they are not. Maybe God is embarrassed and wants to start a movement to kill these church with bad pastors. Whether it's of God or the Devil, I think God will ultimately use it for the good of the reputation of His Heart.

Still, it's sad to see something that you loved taken down by clueless clergy coming in and pushing around there authority like a mislead police officer in it for the love of power instead of the good of the people. My heart aches to see my home church shriveling up and preparing to die. But for a miracle of God, that is just what is going to happen in the coming days.

Friday, July 07, 2006

a hostile takeover...

I returned home to find my house undergoing a hostile takeover. Ten days away gives ample time for creatures to join forces and begin the process of staking their claim on large chunks of property. The weeds had also done a great job of establishing themselves as lawnlords. In fact, the only thriving vegetation in my lawn right now are the weeds. Everything else is feeling the effects of the month long drought. Between the weeds and the collabrative effort of the chipmunks and groundhogs, my pristine landscaping was undergoing a siege the likes of which it had never endured.

I cleared out the van and started the hour long process of pulling weeds. Mind you, these suckers were the size of two year old oak saplings. Some of the vines had sprawled out three to four feet toward the back. I was once again embittered at Adam and Eve for their proclevity to forbidden fruit. Everything else needs fertilization...weeds are helped along by an unseen gardener in the spiritual realm. They never lack for nourishment even in the most obscene drought. Curse those weeds.

The thing that really chapped my behind was the groundhog. He had singlehandedly dug a cave under my weeping cherry that reached over under my blue star junipers. The dirt was piled high on top of my mulch. There had to be about 2 wheelbarrows full of fresh top soil spread over about 8 feet of mulch. I was incensed. I took my spade shovel and started to demolish this demonic den of iniquity. I filled it back in and remulched the places where the mulch had been compromised. I'm a freak when it comes to seperating dirt and mulch...and I simply must have it evened out. It's already hard enough for the color of the mulch to be different in that one spot because of having to redo it. I like it to be uniform...and it's not...all because of that rude groundhog.

Yesterday I was walking my property and I found another hole that was in the process of being dug on the backside of my property. I think it was the same groundhog that watched me demolish his most recent construction. I stopped and stared at the hole until finally he peeked his little head out catching my eye. I didn't move a muscle. We looked at each other for a couple minutes...I barely blinked. I wanted to stare into his soul and for him to feel the gravity of my disgust. I wanted to communicate nonverbally the anger I felt towards him. When I could stand it no longer, I turned and ran to the house. I went up to where I store my guns (that's right, I'm a hunter...I own guns). I have a 30/30 and a double barrel 12 gauge shotgun. I don't know how to use the shotgun yet, so I grabbed the rifle and a couple rounds and headed out to the backyard to enact some long overdue justice.

As I move toward the freshly dug hole I stopped and loaded my weapon. My heart was racing with the adrenaline of a man gaurding his territory...protecting his family...securing the boundaries whereby man and beast live in peacefully agreement and harmony. I raised my gun and released the safety. I waited only 10 seconds before I saw his swollen head surface from his hole. He was curiously surveying the land (probably looking to see what he wanted to destroy next). I aimed for his temple and gently pulled the trigger with delight. I came, I saw, I kicked butt.

The best part was that he dug his own grave. I moved toward my kill and noticed that he slide down into his den making it the easiest burial I've ever witnessed. I simply shoveled the fresh dirt he had just piled back into his hole on top of him. Aly wanted to see him, Kami stood at a distace in fear, Heidi could barely keep her hands off me she was so attracted to every fiber of my masculinity. I don't blame her...I felt pretty attracted to myself. I was swelling with pride and satisfaction like no body's business.

I posted a sign in front of my house: "Beware of Me".

Monday, July 03, 2006

final day of vacation...

well, tomorrow we hit the pavement due west. We've had a spendid time basking in the sun and just simply letting life have it ways with us. Like I said in a previous post, it's been quite some time since I've let life take the lead...it's been a pleasant role reversal. I have to say that I'm missing home though. My house, my bed, my yard, my church, my friends, my icey pops, and other sundry items of value. It will be great to be home.

I have much to share once I settle into the saddle...I've thought much while away and God has been churning some thoughts inside my inner man. Drawing away surfaces some things that need some time to unpack.

well, we're about to eat some freshly picked New Jersey iced corn...about all you have to do is put your lips oven the kernels and they burst into your mouth like a taut water balloon ed with a needle. It's the stuff of heaven. I've gained ten pounds on this vacation...my belly is just bulging...I will go on a diet when I get home...then again, no I won't. I love food too much to deprive it of meeting my hospitable intenstines.