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Saturday, April 28, 2007

I'm coaching, I'm a coach...

We had our first soccer game today. We, being the "chocolate" colored team that my daughter Kami plays on that I agreed to coach. That's right, chocolate. Isn't there a chick flick with that title? All the other teams were traditional colors like green and red and blue, but we are named after a dessert!

We huddled as a team before the game and on the count of three said, "go chocolate!"...I felt sheepish to utter those words...almost shameful. But alas, that is who we are...we have the brown t-shirts to prove it. That's right...brown. Why couldn't we be called brown? I suppose it's got something to do with being politically correct. I'm sure the white team was called something like vanilla or something. "What could brown do for you?" Alot. Alot for the fragile pschological state of our players. Alot.

But, be that as it may, we are good. Good chocolates. We won 2-0. We have some raw talent on our squad. Some "playa's" as they say in the hood. Some 7 and 8 year olds that can run like the wind and desend on the ball like a hurricane. It's so funny to watch them competing. For some of them, this is the first time they have been given permission to "not be nice" to someone else. They are allowed to take the ball from the other team, to fight for position, to bang around in a pack of persons. They are encouraged to be aggresive and to want to beat the other human beings on the other side of the line. They are applauded when they humiliate the other team with a well stuck ball resulting in a goal. They are given high fives when they out-hustle, out-wit, and out-last their opponents.

And, at first, they don't know what to do with this new-found liberation from civil rules of engagement. But as they warm up to the idea of competition, you can tell they feel loosed like a caged lion, liberated to test the wild side of his/her nature. They smile with the grin of guilty pleasure. It's a beautiful thing.

Kami played well, kicking the ball with fierce concentration. She's not so much of an offender quite yet, she likes to settle back as a stopper and strike when the opponent can almost taste a goal. Just when it seems to be too late, she sweeps in and comes to the rescue. It's a thing of beauty. She hops around with phantom movements as she watches her offense manuever around the opponents net. Hopping and skipping and moving her limbs almost like she was the one doing it, all the while enjoying the peace and relative serenity of her own quiet and peaceable penalty area. We need to throw her to the lions a little more in the weeks to come, but for now, she's just getting the taste of blood...the time will come when she will become the revenous wolf her dad was on the soccer field. Just you wait. It's latently flowing in her veins. The sleeping giant will awaken soon.

Aly was playing on the field next to Kami's. She has developed a new form of soccer that only can be described as "Dainty". She prances to and fro like a little fawn in a field of dandylions. The coolest thing was that she scored a goal! Her first game. She didn't even practice with the team earlier this week. She had never, ever practiced before and she put one in the net. Now, mind you, it was a danty goal. It wasn't plastered into the upper 90, it was delicately nugged toward a vacant space and tenderly rolled across the line. Imagine a Barbie kicking it into a goal and you'll be pretty close to picturing the scene. She was overjoyed by this remarkable accomplishment. Several times, however, she was standing over by the sidelines looking off into the distance daydreaming. I would shout out, "Aly, go get the ball" and she would snap to her senses and prance back over to the pack of ball-chasers. She would join this glob of gadabouts moving around the field like a dragonfly over a pond. I'm proud as could be of her valient effort. It was somewhat of a breakthrough for her.

I love both of my soccer player babies. I'm more proud of them than I could ever express in writing. You just had to be there in many ways...but hopefully this little writing takes you there enough to get a little picture of the beautiful world in which I live. I wouldn't trade it for anything.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Diversions...

This was an email I wrote to a buddy this morning. I felt like I needed to remind myself of these things and maybe this will help you in your journey as well. I've taken out a couple things from the email that were more personal in nature...

Thanks for spending good quality time thinking through what you did for that letter. It's always good to engage topics like that with someone else, though I would readily admit, I'm not much of one to fight over doctrine. I love truth and am willing to engage conversation that fights for truth and often I feel docrine prevents people from engaging the deeper truths of what's really the matter with life and faith. It feels deep, but many times is a huge smoke screen to cover up people's real issues like doubt, hypocrisy, anger, and disappointment. People struggle with habits of loveless behavior and cold encounters and angry conversations and overreactions and yet they want to lock horns on issues like the trinity and escatology and eternal security. I find that disconcerting and distracting. It's almost like if they can keep things on the cerebral level of doctrine, it will keep the other people from discovering how difficient they are in matters of commitment, conviction and conduct in the gritty foxholes of life.

Guys want to argue over Scripture but don't want to battle for the hearts of their wives. What's up with that? Girls want to get catty over church politics and the protocols of small group leadership that aren't being followed to the letter of the law, but don't want to address their harshness in conversation with their spouse. That is, in my opinion, a diversion from the issue at hand. Doctrine is worth a sober discusssion, because truth is that important, but truth isn't just beliefs embedded in inspired texts, it's all over the place in the ruff and tumble of living. Until and unless peope want to engage depth relationally, I'm not sure engaging depth intellectually does anything but distract them from the real issues that they should be expending energy to dissect and distill.

One thing I've always loved about you is your pursuit of truth. You are a man of deep conviction and live with a sense of purpose that is flowing from a vision in your heart. That is what drives you and that's respectable. I hope that drive is harnessed and utilized to fight the most critical battles and to construct the most crucial projects...people. Namely, your wife and your children...then your friends and your extended family...and hopefully to the world around you as it flows out of those primary areas.

This is something I have to continually remind myself of. I have immense drive...and it is that very drive that gets me into trouble. I can start to pursue everything but the most important things. I can work hard on everything but the most important things. I can be successful in everything but the most important things. And what do I gain? Really, very little. I gain the world and lose my soul. I end up discrediting everything I say I am with every achievement that is attained out of order. The more successful I become without first being successful at home only calls into question the credibility of my character. This is a jagged little pill to swallow, but it's one that I have to take all the time. I write it to you now only to join the fight with you in battling for the most important things instead of the lesser lovers. It's so easy to give ourselves to mirages and not to our marriages. It's so easy to neglect our kids and chase our tails. And I don't know any other way to keep this from happening than to continually speak aloud about such matters. To raise my own awareness as well as the awareness of those around me. I fear that if I don't I will perish with the rest of the men in our generation drunk on distractions.

These are just some things bouncing around in my brain this morning. I wanted to get them off my chest and into yours. Thanks for the ongoing conversation...it's good for my heart.

Monday, April 23, 2007

A woman's heart...

I don't know who said this, but probably that Anonymous guy...he says alot of really cool stuff...

"A woman's heart should be so close to God that a man has to seek God to find it."

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Unspoken Requests…

I was talking to my dad about all the unspoken requests that used to be given at prayer meetings growing up. The pastor would ask for a show of hands indicating that you had a prayer request that was unspeakable. I always used to find this a bit odd. I remember wondering in my boyish mind what those requests were.

I wonder if they were things like…
- The need for strength against seemingly irresistible temptation or
- The fears that haunted them from their past or
- The deteriorating marriage that was teetering on the brink of divorce or
- The brokenness they felt over a wayward child flirting with disaster or
- The perennial struggle against pride that filled them with condescending arrogance or
- The anger they felt against God for his aloofness in times of pain or
- The frustration they felt over an inability to guard their tongue or
- The ongoing fatigue of living in a wounded world separated from the living God or
- The thinning defenses losing ground to things like lust, pride and rage or
- The lack of passion and compassion for those in deepest need of God or
- The wrestling match of hypocrisy that bred feelings of condemnation and conviction or
- The weight of financial debt sapping energy and creating a prison of payments or
- The weariness of standing for what you believe in a world that thinks you’re crazy or
- The ache over daily disappointments that aren’t measuring up to the promised abundant life or
- The torture of watching someone you love continuing to turn to substance abuse or
- The emptiness and hollowness of trying to do things right but never quite arriving or
- The depression that plagues the heart over a host of little things that add up over the years or
- The effects of abuse from the past coming back to hunt down and haunt the heart or
- The angst over futility and failure that visits anyone who has a pulse on this planet or
- The disappointment of having strong desires and dreams that rarely find fulfillment or
- The huge questions that seem to go without answer in the church or
- The loneliness, lostness and lifelessness felt in the church.

I wonder if I would have found prayer to be more real and powerful if we prayed for some of this stuff. Instead, it was typically the familiar and predictable requests for jobs, wart removal and dying relatives. This is not to downplay the need for prayer over these things as well, but when the nitty gritty is rarely, if ever, addressed, you are left with a sterile and standoffish faith afraid to go there. Where, you ask? Anywhere that is fraught with dicey details and raw revelations. Anywhere that is exactly where most people are living. Anywhere that smacks of the brass tacks of reality.

As a little boy I think I needed to know that church wasn’t afraid to go where people were actually living, where I was actually living. I was struggling with lust, but obviously no one else was. I was struggling with insecurity, but apparently no one else was. I was drawn to sin, struggling with faith in the unseen, bored with the Bible, sick of rules, scared of the big bad world, and hanging by a thread in this whole religion thing, and here we were sitting in pews praying for traveling mercies and showers of blessings.

As I look back, the people who were gathered in that building were a bunch of strugglers. I know this now because many of them have been caught in unspeakable sins. Strip clubs, adulteries, drunkenness, pornography, rebellion, and apostasy…it makes me wonder whether just speaking it out would have been the best thing for some of these people. “Confess your sins one to another, that you may be healed. The effective prayers of a powerful person makes stuff happen” James 5

Unspeakable sins are bred by unspoken requests.

Friday, April 20, 2007

10 funny things about being a pastor...

1. It rhymes with the word, “Pester”.
2. I go through cars like toilet paper.
3. A lot of people treat me as if I’ve been granted immunity from sin.
4. There is a month dedicated to appreciating me.
5. I do PR work for someone I’ve never seen or heard or touched.
6. Trying to live up to the title, “Man of the Cloth”, whatever that means.
7. Seeing “Reverend” stamped in front of my name on the Bible I got for being ordained.
8. Watching people sleep while I’m preaching…that’s hilarious.
9. How, often, I feel further from God than the people who aren’t pastors.
10. Being asked to pray before meals just because I'm the professional "pray-er".

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Coffee, Bachlors, and 80's music...

I'm reclining in a coffee shop in downtown Lowell. They are playing 80's music, exlusively. I'm in heaven. Right this very instant U2 is singing With or Without You...can you hear it? I'm sporting flip-flops due to the 65 degree temps outside. The sun is beaming through the windowpanes reflecting off the hardwood floor. I can see the dust floating in the air looking for a place to alight itself.

Patrons come and go. Coming thirsty, leaving thankful. I can't believe how good coffee makes people feel. The buzz of the bean cannot be overstated. It sustains people like a good friend. In years past, a dog was a man's best friend, no more. Coffee is the new companion.

There is something about little pubs and coffee shops that lift a shroud that envelopes my heart. I can relax. Breathe freely. Think clearly. Read deeply. Rest my faculties. Refresh my senses.

My wife is away with the girls for the next couple nights. I'm a bachlor. I have no plans, no deadlines, no responsibilities. I'm free. Free, I tell you. I can go sing karaoke at a local dive. I can climb a tree in my backyard. I can run around the house in my underwear and eat ice cream out of the box. I can flex my muscles in the bathroom mirror. I can eat raw hot dogs without my wife's hairy eyeball condemning me. I can sleep sideways on our bed. I can sing Chicago's greatest hits in the shower. I can scratch my lint-laden navel while watching The Antique Roadshow. I can pick my nose with my thumb without looking over my shoulder. (it isn't picking your nose if you don't use your index finger) I don't have to wear deodorant. I can wear my undies three days in a row. (my wife prohibits the wearing of underwear for more than 24 hours) I can watch Texas Hold 'Em (since it's on about every other channel these days) I can pretend I'm a lonely, single guy pining for companionship. And then when my wife comes home we can pretend we just met, fell hopelessly in love with each other, and eloped on the spur of the moment because we couldn't resist each other. That's always fun.

The fact of the matter is that I hate being alone. I try to talk myself into enjoying these sabatticals from family, but alas, I am a sucker for my wife and kids. They are my very heart, my life and my reason for carrying on with passion. I will miss them.

But for now, I'll lean into my coffee for solace and let the music of the 80's do it's thang.

Oh, boy..."Pour some sugar on me" just hit the speakers...my coffee even likes to sing along with this one.

Monday, April 16, 2007

a harrowing experience...

I took an unplanned sabbatical from the blogsphere that last week and a half. Life caught me by surprise and I was wisked away into a world of Easter preparations and services. As I was catching my breath this last week, life threw another curve ball to our family.

Heidi and the girls got in a really bad accident. It snowed here last Wed. and the slushy roads caused Heidi to spin out of control into a tree. She hit the tree backwards which saved her life, as well as the girls.

I was getting ready for Tech Team meeting when I recieved the dreadful call from Heidi. She was crying and cutting out because of the bad cell phone reception where the accident took place. I only could make out the terror in Heidi's voice as she cried, the road she was on, and that Kami was bleeding very badly...then the phone cut out. The next four minutes as I rushed to the scene of the accident was filled with more adrenaline than any other four minutes I've ever experienced. I was picturing everything imaginable and preparing myself for the worst.

When I arrived on the scene, all the girls were screaming and crying. Kami was covered in blood and it was still pouring out of her head. Aly was terrorized and was scared of everyone and everything, including me. Taylor was crying and bleeding from her head as well. Heidi was crying and saying over and over..."I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm sorry." In the midst of crisis, she thought so well on her feet. I was just trying to get them settled down to find out what the extent of their injuries were. The van was caved in and totalled completely. My heart was pounding as I heard the sirens nearing. Before I knew it, ambulances, firetrucks, police cars and a host of medics and officers and fireman were covering the scene. It was nightmerish.

When I took Kami to the truck to get warm, she was crying uncontrollably. I set her on the seat and with fear in her eyes she said over and over again, "I love God. I love God. I love God." Followed by, "I just don't want to get stitched in my head." She then would say things like, "God loves our family...He loves our family so much." I was astounded to hear what was coming out of her mouth in the midst of crisis. I don't know if I was so conscious of God in that moment, though the ride over to the accident scene was filled with raw, unedited prayer.

We were rushed to the hospital via ambulance. Heidi was put on a stretcher...her neck and shoulder were aching pretty bad and she needed x-rays. Aly was the only one who didn't go the emergency room, she was taken by the Lead Pastor of our church to their house, which was a perfect place for her to rest her frazzled heart.

Kami had to get staples to close her wound and Heidi found out from the x-rays that there were no factures, just stretched ligaments and muscles that would be sore for quite some time. Taylor got cleaned up only to find that there were several small cuts on her head, but nothing that required stitches or staples. Kami was a trooper when it came time for her to get fixed up. She was scared, but really weathered the whole experience with tremendous bravery compared to other hospital experiences from her past. God was all over our family in this experience.

So needless to say, we're still sort of recovering from this jolt in our life-schedule. It's funny how unimportant everything is when the people you love most are hanging in the balance. Things that take so much time and energy just fall to the wayside and it becomes crystal clear that people are the most important possession in life. I hope we don't recover from that lesson. Thanks to everyone who prayed with us through this harrowing experience.

The van is no more. When I went to see it the next day in the junk yard, I cried. I couldn't fathom that my family wasn't hurt more based on the damage to the vehicle...it was crushed. If it had hit anywhere but the back, it more than likely would have been fatal. I'm thanking God for his protection. It makes me wonder how many things he's rescued us from without me knowing it.

Friday, April 06, 2007

How Great is our God - Easter rewrite

I know, I'm a dork. I love this song and rewrote it for Christmas, and now Easter rolls around and I've tampered with it once again. I don't even know if it's legal. I should check into that. But for those of you out there still looking for songs to do for Easter, maybe this will come in handy. For the rest of your that think I need to get a life, I couldn't agree with you more.

_____________________________________________________________

How Great is Our God
Music by: Chris Tomlin -- Lyrics by: Jason Holdridge

C Am
Our Savior came to earth, to break the fall’s dark curse
F
And bring us back to life,
F
And bring us back to life.

C Am
He wrapped Himself in flesh, befriending brokenness
F
The Kingdom was alive,
F
His Kingdom was alive…

Chorus:
C Am
How Great is our God, sing with me, How Great is our God
F G
And all will see, How great, How great is our God.

C Am
The Friend of Sinners died, and Hope was crucified
F
Redemption’s blood grew cold
F
Redemption’s blood grew cold.

C Am
But death could not keep down this God within the ground
F
The stone would never hold,
F
No stone could ever hold…


Bridge:
C
You’re the God who saved the day,
Am
When You rose up from the grave,
F G C
So my heart must say, “How great is our God!”

Thursday, April 05, 2007

"Denominations are silly" response...

There have been many responses to the "Denominations are silly" blog. It seems to have struck a nerve…a good one and a bad one. Most of the responses have been thoughtful and positive. A few have been constructive in their criticism. I appreciate them both. I feel this to be the most positive thing about thought that makes it out of the brain and onto the page for public scrutiny. I believe challenging systems of thought that get rusty and crusty for lack of evaluation is valuable and essential to the preservation of truth.

It is when things lay dormant, untouched and unquestioned, that I feel dangerous things start to form. Especially in the church…the body bearing the responsibility of reflecting the reputation of Jesus to the world.

One of the reasons I love to share my thoughts is not because I feel like I’ve arrived at the indisputable conclusion to whatever particular subject I’m addressing, it is to continue to journey toward deeper discovery with other people. I love to engage in fierce conversations with myself and others on topics that either are compelling or repelling as I personally see them. I have a particular zeal in regard to how the universal church functions or dysfunctions in society. I am filled with the rawest delight possible when she fleshes out Christ in mediums that make me proud to be called a Christian. And I am filled with the rawest of anger when I see the church shooting herself in the foot with things that appear to be inconsequential and borderline ridiculous.

I know that my perspective is flawed to be sure, so I don’t lay claim to an infallible philosophy or theology. I expect people to do much of what I do when I read what authors pen…to graciously eat the meat and generously spit out the bones. When I write I’m only trying to vent my own personal takes on the life I’ve experienced, am experiencing or dreaming of experiencing. What is good for the goose isn’t always good for the gander, if you don’t believe that, just get married.

But when I watch and study the life of Christ (an example that I seek to emulate above all others), I see him purposely engaging topics that were controversial in order to keep the religious system honest. Granted, He’s Jesus and I’m Jason, but I think it’s important to address issues within religion that are killing the Kingdom. He would sow seeds of discord among the religious establishment purposely to cause them to take a second look at their systems of thought and their misguided methods of ministry. And make no mistake; a lot of people were furious with him for tampering with what was thought to be air-tight absolutes. He didn’t get nailed to a cross for being nice. He got nailed to a cross because he dared to challenge the religious delusions and “dilutings” going on within the body of people claiming to represent him. And for the record, I do this more than I know…I look back on my life often and grimace in embarrassment at some of the thoughts, theories and theologies that I put out there. We all are culprits of dirty religion on some level. But the only antidote for this tendency is to always be following the truth, “no matter where it leads”.

I wonder if this was the reason why Jesus wasn’t accepted any more in his “own hometown”, or rejected by his own family, or didn’t have a place to call home. “He came to his own, and his own received him not.” It wasn’t because he disagreed with everything he was taught, in fact, he agreed with a lot of it. It wasn’t because he had a spirit that loved to agitate others and to make shock statements to rile people up. It wasn’t because he was a “disturber of the peace” or a “troublemaker” by nature…he wanted to spread the refreshing news of Isaiah 61 with others for crying out loud.

I think he just couldn’t espouse any particular subgroup across the board. He wanted to live in peace with everyone, but he also couldn’t sit idly by and let things go that he felt were an aberration from the original intent of God’s heart. He couldn’t just “live and let live”. He cared too deeply about the gospel message to watch it get blurred or buried under heaps of man-made religious debris.

When I wrote “Denominations are silly”, I was trying to humorously address some of the observations I’ve made over the years. In making “blanket statements” about Baptists or Wesleyans, I am not saying that every Baptist church is this way or that, nor am I saying that Wesleyans are misled across the board. Like the old saying goes, “If the shoe fits, wear it.”…”and if it doesn’t, don’t”. I’m sure when Jesus was calling Pharisee’s “white-washed tombs” and “broods of vipers” and “sons of Hell”, he wasn’t saying that all Pharisee’s were equally poisonous in their ministries. We know this because Gamaliel in Acts 5 was a man of wisdom and honor offering advice that was brilliant and driven by a spirit of humility and open-mindedness. So we know that not everything the Pharisees believed was wrong, nor was the bulk of their law-abiding coming from anything less than hearts that wanted to please God completely. But Jesus continued to be honest and forthright about his areas of disgust with the current movement of religion. The ones that agreed with him couldn’t get enough of what he was constructing, destructing and deconstructing. The ones that weren’t in agreement were offended, unnerved and disoriented. It’s funny, to some people, Jesus was giving an orientation on the Kingdom of God, to others, he was giving a disorientation on the Kingdom of God. His audience was always left to see where they fit in the conversation. I think that’s a great form of teaching.

I love the church. I know the church will never be perfect. It’s the broken bride of Christ and will be that way to some degree until we see the Kingdom come in its fullness. I know that I will believe wrong things about God, and I know that I will always be connected to a church that is dysfunctional no matter what denomination I’m a part of. And make no mistake, everyone is a part of a denomination, even if it’s “non-denominational”…that is now a denomination. Denominations aren’t just built on doctrinal constitutions; they are built on human personalities. And until a local body can figure out a way to meet without a leader and a group of followers, there will always be organized religion. If for no other reason than “disorganized religion” is an even more damaging alternative.

I love my Baptist heritage as well as my new Wesleyan heritage for a host of reasons. I’m sure Jesus loved the Jews a ton as well. But this did not keep him from sharing his list of concerns every now and again. I hope that my sharing of observations doesn’t in any way come across as arrogant or disrespectful, because that is not my heart. I hope it does come across zealous and personal, because that is my heart. What would I be actually be doing as a pastor if I wasn’t taking all this stuff personally? Like Jesus, there is nothing that disturbs me more than the silly mishaps of the church, but I hope I would love her so much that, like Jesus, I would lay down my life for her. Unless I love her to death, my criticisms are exercises of childish folly.

Thanks for being gracious with my musings….