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Monday, January 28, 2008

I passed out preaching...

It was a brisk Sunday morning and it felt unusually hard to rise and shine and give God the glory. The Saturday night service had come and gone and my mind was trying to wake up and find a poise that would carry me through two morning Sunday morning services. I splashed water on my face, looked at my aging mug in the bathroom mirror, hurtled the bathtub wall and stood under the shower like a stiff two by four. I emerged from the rain-like cleansing with a renewed vigor and a much needed bounce in my step.

We arrived at church at 7:30am to practice with the band and before I could say "fiddlesticks" it was time to begin the nine o'clock service. Things were moving along as usual, no pitfalls to speak of based on my foggy recollection. It came time for me to step up and share a word from the Lord...so I took a deep breathe during the "Pay it Forward" clip setting up the message and rose to declare what was pounding in my chest.

I moved through my notes and came to a quote that spurred on a couple of unplanned thoughts that led to the verse in Gal. 4 where Paul was sharing about his ardent concern for the people in the city of Galatia. He spoke of how he cried out with the pangs of childbirth until Christ was formed in them. I was speaking about the need to multiply and to disciple others and this seemed like a rich passage describing Paul's passion to see transformation in the lives of those he was discipling.

I was simulating, the best I knew how, the birthing experience and as I cried out with passion holding my breath and feeling my face get beat red, I blacked out. I went faint and fell off the stool and onto the floor. I couldn't see a thing, though I could hear people chuckling like they were in a tunnel. I was on my hands and knees for several seconds. I stood up and sat back down on the stool, but I still couldn't see anything...it was pitch black. After several seconds, my sight returned and I stood dazed looking out at the people. They were smiling and concerned all at the same time. As I felt my legs strengthen and my mind focus, I yelled out, "That was awesome!" It felt like the days of old when a bunch of boys were in the bathroom hyperventilating and giving each other bear hugs to knock each other out. Except this happened while I was preaching.

I felt a little juvenile as I collected my wits and moved on...but as I look back, I hope to never lose that sense of urgency that comes with embodying the gospel. Sometimes it's just gotta knock you out. "If we are out of our minds it's for the sake of God, if we're of our right minds it's for you." 2 Cor. 5:13

Friday, January 25, 2008

affectation/affection...

"He is greatest whose strength carries up the most hearts by the attraction of his own." - Henry Ward Beecher


I haven't been able to get this phrase out of my head. It's the truest things I've encountered in the last week. And I love truth in all forms. I want to have this kind of heart, this kind of affect.

I'm not sure anyone has ever been affective (notice I didn't say effective) until they have first become attractive. Too many hearts want the former without laying the foundation of the latter.

I want to carry up people's hearts, not with an affectation, but with genuine affection.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Taking it in...

Things I love about my life...

1. Whispering into my daughters ears just before bed.
2. Watching Heidi do the girls hair in the morning.
3. Seeing the girls crammed in the bathtub all together splashing around.
4. Playing Skipbo with the girls, especially Taylor since she doesn't know what she's doing.
5. Watching American Idol with Heidi and laughing ourselves into a pleasant stomach ache.
6. Reading "Keys for Kids" to the girls in the morning as they eat their breakfast.
7. Living out in the country where the stars are brilliant and the moon resplendent.
8. Hearing the girls play house together as I sit in another room.
9. Giving each of them a different kiss each night that fits their spirit.
10. Tickling Taylor and listening to her laugh from her gut...a machine gun giggle.
11. Talking about opposites and favorites with Aly each night.
12. Listening to Kami talk on the phone to people with confidence and poise.
13. Seeing Heidi descend the stairs just before we go out on a hot date.
14. Coming home only to be tackled by the girls smiles and joy.
15. Going to a movie like "The Bucket List" with Heidi and talking about it on the way home.
16. Wrestling with the girls after chasing them around the house.
17. Getting a love note in the morning from Heidi that she left on the counter the night before.
18. Seeing the ice cream smeared around the girls mouths after they devour a bowl of it.
19. Talking to the girls about God and listening to their responses to the unseen world.
20. Hearing Kami say, "I love my life" several times a week.
21. Watching Taylor make up songs and sing them for us as she stands on the bed.
22. Watching Looney Toons with the girls and laughing together while eating a snack.
23. Holding hands with Heidi in the car while listening to the radio.
24. My yard...the trees, the shrubs, the grass, the rocks, the vines, the mulch...I love it.
25. The sensitive heart of my daughter Aly that stirs my spirit to an increased awareness.
26. Watching Kami play on the monkeybars and move about uninhibited whatsoever.
27. Doing art with Aly and watching her pay attention to the finest details.
28. Snuggling with each of the girls on the couch when they are trying to stall before bed.
29. Listening to the share about what they learned in church as we drive home.
30. Seeing their little legs dangle off the edge of the chairs they are sitting on.
31. Watching Heidi from a distance and imagining the meeting her again for the first time.
32. Laying in bed and replaying moments from my day that I'm grateful for.
33. Waking up and knowing the I wouldn't rather be anyone or anywhere else.

I love so many things about my life. I could go on and on. Sometimes you just have to sit still and take it in. So that's what I'm doing...taking it in...

Friday, January 11, 2008

go to where the people are...

Last night I was invited to share a little at what our church calls "Teen MOPS". It's a ministry that reaches out to young girls who are pregnant or who have had babies as teenagers. (typically out of wedlock). Something that they just started this year was a parallel ministry to their "significant others"...which as you can imagine is quite daunting.

This particular evening that I was invited to was a night that they put together to share a meal with the couples and then open a time afterward to discuss the heart of a woman and a man in a marriage relationship...which is funny cause out of all of them, I think only one couple was married. (There were about 8 couples) Most of the guys have to be dragged there against their will, akin to the days when your mom grabbed your ear and drug you to the kitchen table to finish your peas.

I will have you know that I would rather speak to 15,000 people in an arena than to stand up and venture into the dicey terrain of this sort of assembly. All my comforts and standards and defaults don't apply quite so smoothly in this setting. My stomach was in knots, churning my blood into a buttery texture. I was wondering how to transition from eating to talking about family, relationships, and especially GOD. "Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders..." (Col. 4) Yeah...that's what was filling my mind.

I will have to tell you that the night was powerful. And it was powerful because we were leaning into the awkwardness. It was invigorating because we weren't playing it safe. The volunteers that do this on a weekly basis have my highest regards. They are moving toward the darkness and attempting to push it back with the light of truth...the kind of truth that only comes when people lay down words and employ an incarnational model of pitching their tent among the broken...living among them...meeting them where they're at.

As I was sharing, there were little babies nestled in the arms of these teenagers completely unaware that they are smack dab in the middle of a search and rescue mission...a "Saving Private Ryan" call to duty. What if all this effort saves just one of those babies? What if this dinner and all the man hours that go into planning an event like this gives even one of those fragile couples a leg up in this life? What would these kids do without caring people leaving the safety and comfort of their posh living rooms tonight and choosing to move toward the tension, the carnage, the wreckage. They don't have to...and yet they lay down their peace of mind to pick of the broken pieces of humanity. And what fills your heart when you lay down peace to pick up pieces...is a peace that passes comprehension...a peace that can only be found on the other side of torture and tension and terror.

And these men and women from our faith community that have set aside their own "peace" in order to gather up the "pieces" have my utmost respect and affection this Friday morning. Their dedication to reach and stretch beyond themselves rebukes me and stirs me. It's stirring to my blood. And I want to be more like that. I love being a pastor of a community that gets it...that really gets the call of the kingdom...the grit of the gospel...."to seek and save those who are lost".

God continues to disclose more of Himself to me everyday...but I'm finding that he won't let me see anymore until I move to places that require more of Him. Last night was one of those nights. I'm finding that God isn't often found on my couch, or in my office, or even in my church...he's found in the trenches with the broken.

I almost feel these days like the church is to God what the zoo is to a lion. You can see him there, but he's been tamed and caged for so long that you're seeing only a shell of the real thing. To find a real lion, you must venture into the jungle...for it is there that the lion will truly be himself. If you're looking for God, move to the wilds of the world...he is prowling around in places you would least expect. When you go to the zoo, you will find a lethargic lion near dead laying on a cement floor muscles atrophied, eyes darkened. When you go to church, you will often find a God no less dead, hanging on to life by a thread. He is there, but not in his natural habitat, not in his full glory. To see him as such, you have to move into the wild...that is where the Lion Himself acts Himself. He is untamed, glorious, and threatening. He is majestic, fearsome, a thing of beauty. The zoo will leave you disappointed if you're looking for a real lion. The (weekend) church will leave you disappointed if you're looking for a real God. To find these you must move into the jungle.

I've spent too many years in the zoo.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

morning dew...

Lately I've been waking up to the thought of God. His presence. His nearness. His attentiveness.

I'll be laying there in my bed and I'll just start talking inside my thoughts to Him.

"Well, hi there. Have you been leaning over me staring at my face all night long? Umm...well, I just want to talk to you about the upcoming day and the goings on of my life. My girls...my little girls, God. You probably are leaning over them each night as well, but just in case you aren't, could you start doing that? In fact, could you hover over them throughout the day as well, speaking into their little hearts with your still, small voice. Deflect lies and magnify truth. Give them strong hearts to stand in the midst of pressure and confusion. Root them in convictions born out of a clear conscience. Help them to be leaders, Lord...strong, humble, gracious, poised. And if there are any child predators around them, put a force field around their little bodies and shield them from the sick touch of a hand from hell. Keep my daughters pure and whole for their husbands. Speaking of their husbands...look after those little boys right now as well. Keep them away from porn and false idols that would seek to dilute them. Give them an unexplainable passion for Your Word. Give them a sensitive conscience to desire more than anything to please You. Keep them from immorality...the dark seeds that plant deep in the soul sprouting years down the pike seeking to steal, kill and destroy.

Be with me today, God. I want to walk with you feeling your gentle reins upon my neck steering me toward your will. Keep my heart poised and pure. Let me see this world through the lens of your love, God...the kind of love that loves kindness. Make me kindhearted to others seeing the best in them, unearthing their glory, drawing out the poison that cripples them. Help me to serve you with great joy and exceeding gratitude. I've so much to be thankful for...let me rehearse those things in between my daily duties. Bring to my remembrence this same presence that presses up against me even now.

Be with my wife...speak to her and chase away all the doubts inside her heart. Love her with me, God. Give me a richer, fuller love for the real her, the deep-down her, the concealed her. Give me more creativity in my relationship with her. Thank you for my wife, Lord. Thank you.

And this day...this day I will never recieve again...may I live it well for you. I want to hear you say at the end of the day, 'This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased.' I would very much like to hear that deep in my heart.

You are my portion, Lord. Be near me this day."

This is just a sampling of what my times with him have been like this last week. It's quite breathtaking and the intoxication of those times spills into my day. I've had 5 of the some of the best days of my life in a row...and I don't know for sure, but I'm thinking I owe this fact to early morning dew that has dripped into my heart from the heart of God.

It's quite mystical.

Monday, January 07, 2008

balmy Monday morning...

Let the day begin...

It's Monday, nearly 60 degrees in Western Michigan. That may not sound strange to you, but you can't know how odd it feels to walk out your front door and feel a balmy mist hit you in the face all the while glancing at the igloo you made for your daughters melting helplessly in the front yard, the last remains of a week old blizzard. The forcaster said that it could reach 60 degrees today. I'm watching for the flowers to prematurely burst through the thawed soil in the next couple days.

Al Gore may be onto something with this global warming trend.

It's grey outside, ominously dreary and overcast with dreadful dark clouds. It's sometimes hard to summon the strength the do anything but crawl back in bed when Mondays are a manic as this one appears to be at first glance.

Our leaders are heading out for a day retreat to talk, share, laugh, look ahead, look behind, look within. I love those times to hear where my fellow comrades are at and what is bouncing around in their heads and hearts. I love to share openly about my recent musings and the things I wonder about and wish for. We have such a relaxed community...I love feeling like I can be myself.

Being myself seems redundant, I know. But I'm amazed how much of my life has been spent not being comfortable in my own skin. I've lived guarded and uptight. I've been nervous to share what I'm really thinking for fear that it would lead to my occupational execution. I've spent years in ministry and life holding back, holding in and holding down...my heart dying to emerge with a group that welcomes honesty and accountability, risk and questions, humanity and Christianity, art and heart, culture and Scripture, relevance and reverence, ancient and future, grace and truth. And I'm overjoyed to say that I experience that on a weekly basis in my faith community at Impact.

So on this gloomy, balmy, rainy, damp Monday morning...things are looking up...cause I have some good humans to share it with.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

I'm a dung beatle...

(this is my 300th post...for the record)

...so I had a salad for lunch today and I can't believe the psychological effect that had on me. I ate like a starved sow over the holidays, indescriminently wolfing down anything in my path and yet, it took one salad to make me feel good about myself again. My body is still in shambles...my health is still reeling from the abuse, but a simple salad made me feel like I'm whole again. Wow.

I can't help feeling like this is how I do the Christian life some days. I'm really living out an unhealthy existance, but with one implementation of waking early to pray one day and I feel like I'm on top of the world again. It's amazing the psychology of spirituality. Psychologically speaking, I feel acquitted. I feel justified. I feel healthy again. But in all actuality I'm still steeped in horrible habits leading to unbelievable unhealth. I'm no where near whole, though the "salad" made me feel a certain o.k."ness". I can't believe how easy it is to play tricks on my psyche. It balances on such a finicky fulcrum. It relies on such a mush of meaning. It leans on a rickity shanty of shallow truths. It's a house of cards for crying out loud. A measly little salad passifies the desire to feel healthy. (feeling healthy is no different than being healthy in this line of thinking) In reality my construct for healthy habits is an absolute debacle, but that matters not, so long as I have a periodic salad to soothe my spirit.

I feel like I do alot of things to prop myself up. So many of these props are "feeling good" techniques that I have learned over the years. They give a semblence, a quasi/psuedo sense of peace...and that's good enough for me. I don't have time to unpack the restless feelings, so I pop in a placebo to play games with my pyche and change my mood, which changes my perspective, which changes my belief, which changes my behavior, which changes my life. I get the changed life without the real change. Or, at the very least, a shallow and unsustained stint of real change. One salad, I think you would agree, doesn't make me a healthy eater. One salad shouldn't give me a feeling of superiority over all those who don't eat healthy. One salad shouldn't cancel out the "eater's remorse" I feel from the holidays. One salad shouldn't be given that sort of power. But somehow, it does. It makes me feel so much better about myself, life and the people around me. I can't believe the bounce in my step and the shot in my arm and the pep in my perspective...all because I consumed a glass of water (oh, forgot about that little happy piece of health) and an everyday house salad. I think I'm a posterboy for health & fitness and I'm two hours into this supposed diet. I'm a chump...a bonefied chump.

I know this is a jumbled mess of factoids for some who are reading, but I'm just overwhelmed right now with how ridiculous it is that I feel as good as I do after one good meal. I wonder if that's what alot of people feel who go to church for one hour on the weekend? Should that make us feel as good as we do about our otherwise pathetic faith? Honestly, should that fill us with giddy sufficiency and warm feelings of intimacy with God when in reality we are treating a hemorrage with a bandaid? Have we fallen so far that any sign of life makes us feel like we've arrived and that everyone else is fat and overweight and undisciplined and less committed than we are? I can't help but feeling like this false sense of "salad security" is trying to tell me something larger about my psychodic spirituality.

It's days like today that I feel like God has more mercy on me than I generally realize. Honestly, the things he puts up with are some of the most absurd fallacies that I try to pass as truth known to man. Thank you God that you haven't torched my ant-like frame under the magnifying glass of your glory. I'm a dung beatle needing God's grace to cover up my rank odor.