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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The adoption onto the calling!

It's like waiting with bated breath for the second coming of Christ.  You live every day as if he could come like a thief in the night, and yet you have to get on with life as though he may not.  I'm sure there's a breakdown in the difference between the return of Christ and the rapture you experience when you finally get the referral call from the adoption agency saying, "We have your sons."...but...not that much.

We got the call yesterday while on vacation.  We were sitting on the beach and Adoption Associates, our agency, called twice and left a message to call them back.  Of all the calls you don't want to miss, it's that one, but we were all caught up in "surf and seagulls" enjoying the Atlantic Ocean on the boardwalk of New Jersey.  Phones are tucked away in purses and beach bags to protect them from the heat, sand, and water...especially iPhones which are treated as a new born baby on the beach.  You get all protective of your iPhones like they might be abducted by strangers or drowned in the you care for them like they are vulnerable offspring.  Of all the days to be babying our iPhones while they are buzzing and ringing trying to get our attention with the call of all calls, the adoption call with the long-awaited eagerly anticipated news of our boys...their whereabouts, their names, their ages, their family backstory or lack thereof, their needs, their medical backgrounds, their origins, and the single most longed-for piece of the puzzle, their pictures.

We have pictured them in our minds a thousand times over.  We have made up images of their little faces which are a mixture of seeing pictures of Ethiopian children in a National Geographic article, or watching them run long distances in marathons, or seeing specials on television of children braving famines, hunger, abandonment, rebel warfare, rapes, the Aids pandemic, orphanages, and sex/human trafficking.  In the last several years the plight of Africa in general and Ethiopia in particular has taken center stage in publicity, and yet so much of the coverage awakens pangs of pity or romantic relief missions or monies to scratch an immediate itch we feel temporarily agitated by.  All of these things have covered my painter's pallet giving me colors and textures to paint a picture inside my head of what I expected my boys to look like.  But now, the span between our families' imaginary pictures and the actual photographs of these two boys would be reconciled in a single moment.

We got home from Ocean City and gathered around our computer to access Heidi's Juno account and to download the jpg. links attached to the referral email.  It's a wonder butterflies didn't fly out of our mouths they were fluttering so violently within our stomachs.  The girls were giggling like they used to on Christmas morn.  Heidi's smile has never been wider and fuller.  My modus operandi in these moments is to be cool and collected, but under wraps I'm panting for those pictures like a thirsty dog.  As I opened my laptop and we connected to the internet, every click felt like getting through another firewall that had long kept us from finding and seeing our boys.  As I punched in Heidi's password to her Juno account and clicked on the glowing "Inbox", Sally's name, our representative, popped up with a few emails she had sent with background documents and pictures of the boys.  My hands were trembling a bit as I located the pictorial "pearls of great price".

And then, with the flash of a popup in the left hand corner of our screen, we saw the oldest of the two boys, Joshua (Fuad), standing there with his name pinned to his chest looking at us eyeball to eyeball.  At first I couldn't get the picture rotated so that he was upright, so our whole family was tilting our heads to compensate for the sideways angle.  Eventually, I got him propped upright and we gazed on him like we were looking at an angel.  He was just standing there in second-hand clothes up against a cold wall, eyes brown as a milk chocolate, and skin shining with an ebony satin tone that can't be described with a metaphor, it stands alone and can only be known by seeing it with your own eyes.  As I said before, he had a piece of lined school paper fastened to his sweatshirt with his name written across it "FUAD".  The name means "Heart" and in the last two years he needed every bit of his name's meaning to weather the storm he endured.   Just the little we know would bring a grown man to his knees and break him like a windshield into a thousand shards of sadness.  He looked dazed and confused, like he'd been transported to another unfamiliar place with another batch of unfamiliar faces.  It was as if he didn't know whether he was being shot with a camera or a gun, but he stood there on the firing line just the same, submitting to whatever random process being abandoned looks and feels like to a child who stands somewhere between innocence and un-innocence.  The look of his face had the feel of lost. Lost in about every sense of the word.  But in his eyes, you can see a little man who can rise from the ashes of loss.  A young boy who can't talk and isn't potty-trained though 2 and a half, stunned by his short years of existence on this planet.  He stands there without the ability to think about his future, only his unassembled present and his disassembled past.  Too young to put it all together, but old enough to know life is not unfolding as it should.  If Shalom means "life as it ought to be" then he is aware enough to realize life up till now has been whatever the opposite of that is.

But since we are adopting two, we quickly wiped away the tears and opened another email with another set of attachments including 4 pictures of the 6 month old named Caleb "Eyob".  His name means "Job or persecuted".  His name spoke of his short life to this point, but we intended to do something about that.  We were told over the phone that he was much fairer skinned, with big eyes and a head of hair that wouldn't stop.  He was brought to the orphanage by an officer when he was 2 months old who said the child had bee handed to the him by a crying woman.  They have no record of his parents.  When we opened the attachment, we melted like soft-serve ice cream in July.  He was laying in a makeshift crib with oversized clothes looking at the camera with the biggest eyes and the longest eyelashes you'll ever see.  (Think Puss-n-Boots in Shrek)  We kept clicking on each of the 4 pictures to see him from different angles scrolling through them again and again drinking in every detail.  Something inside of you is even trying to see if you can see signs of how cared for they are in these still shots.  Does his diaper look full?  Is that spit up on his shoulder?  Is someone combing his hair and rolling up his sleeves so he can practice his motor skills?  Are there rashes anywhere?  Do his eyes look soft and undefiled or does he seem too aware that he has been abandoned even as a 6 month old?  I can't tell you how our eyes were darting to and fro looking for signs of life and death, signals of needs met or unmet, non-verbals that would give us a cue or a clue of something subtle and almost undetectable to any other eye than a parents'.  How we would know, but immediately you feel like you're their protector and provider and you attach to these pictures feeling them with your heart like a blind person running his or her fingertips over brail.  Every texture means something, every one.  Each nuance is telling a story, or so it seems.

We sat there stunned downloading every picture and blowing it up as big as possible until it became pixilated into a stew of calico colors.  We looked for scars and fingers.  We looked for the shape of lips and ears and noses.  We drank in the stare of their eyes, putting words to that window to the soul.  If they could talk to us at all, their eyes where their voices.  We captured the rapture and then began the process of trying to share with our loved ones from the center (family) out to the next ring (friends) to the next ring, and on and on.  The next hours were spent telling and retelling the overarching storyline and the stories that fill in the subplot a bit.  There aren't words to describe how beautiful it is to tell this story over and over again.

I'm sure more and more of this story will unfold in the days and months to come, but for now I'll leave it at that.  Suffice it to say that Heidi and I are overjoyed to be the parents of these boys and I speak for my whole family when I say that we desire to create Shalom for these boys as we welcome them into our home, our extended family, our church and our community.  But for now, they are still far away and under the care of their Heavenly Father.  Until they are safe within our arms, they are safe within His.  And the fact is that even when they are "safe" within our arms, they will continue to be Fathered on the interior by the only one who knows their whole story and thus, the only one who will be able to hold them and heal them where it really counts, on the inside.

So now we have seen their outside, their faces.  What a joy!  But my heart now heaves with heaven for their insides, the things they've heard, seen, felt, smelt, tasted, touched and been touched by.  It is the hearts behind their faces that I'm asking everyone to join me in praying for in the days, months and years to come.  We have a great adventure ahead of us fraught with many trials and triumphs!  It is the power of God through the prayers of the saints that will give us the strength to pour the love of Jesus into these little boys...the new brothers of my girls, the new sons of my wife and I.

Joshua (Rescuing One) and Caleb (Bold One)...welcome to our family.

We love you already.

Friday, July 27, 2012

The difference between the church as a ministry and the church as a movement...

Take my yoke upon you…

(Yoke – a Rabbi’s understanding of God through the Scriptures.)

As we move through August and into the Fall ministry push, I look forward to people coming back from excursions refreshed and ready to hit the ministry year with a new vigor.

As a body at Impact, what we are asking for and what we are looking for is nothing less than everything God set forth in the gospel.  Jesus certainly came to make friends, but he was even more concerned with making followers, disciples. 

He was asking people to follow him and to take his yoke upon them and to deny themselves in doing so.  He didn't apologize for this apologetic either.  He knew what he was asking for and what the gospel deserved.

As so as I look toward August and the homestretch of the summer leading into the Fall and all that God longs to do through our body at Impact, I'm filled with hopes and dreams.  Our leadership is longing for more than just a nice little place to spend an hour on the weekend, we believe God's dream for the church he died for is so much deeper and grander than that.

When we think of church as a movement, not just a ministry...

We are asking you to not just enjoy it, but engage it.
We are asking you to not just attend it, but to affect it.
We are asking you to not just believe it, but to become it.
We are asking you to not just get from it, but to give to it.
We are asking you to not just applaud it, but to apply it.

We are looking for stakeholders, not freeloaders.
We are looking for partners, not patrons.
We are looking for contributors, not consumers.
We are looking for participators, not spectators.
We are looking for followers, not fans.

God is looking for kingdom-lovers, not just church-goers.
God is looking for producing Christ-followers, not just professing Christians.

And we are asking you to take this yoke upon you…this culture, this mission, this vision, this passion…

We are asking you to feel the weight of it upon your shoulders and to carry it around with you each day of your life. 

Will you take this yoke upon you?

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Challenging religion...

I often get responses from my blog...sometimes private, sometimes public.  Most of the time good, sometimes not so good.  Most of the responses are 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 an author pens…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 write about issues or perspectives or perceptions...I'm just putting out my own commentary on reality as I experience it.  My thoughts are merely my thoughts and are meant to inspire, challenge, sometimes asking questions, sometimes questioning answers.  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 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 continuing to be gracious with my musings….

Monday, July 23, 2012

Things that drive me in ministry and family...

We all, hopefully, have values or virtues that guide us along as we wake to greet each new day.  These are a few of mine.  They anchor me in my ministry and my family.

Scripture - Story
Culture – Language
Adventure – Mystery
Nature – Beauty
Texture - Community
Picture - Expression
Rapture – Excitement
Future – Hopeful

I hold these truths to be self-evident...ok, well, maybe not self-evident, but pretty close.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Being honest and human with God, even if it seems irreverent at times...

Sometimes prayer is difficult for me.  I pray but it feels empty at times.  Other times it feels as natural as breathing.  But whatever prayer feels like on any given day, it's hard to be a human and not struggle with the faith that it takes to maintain a good prayer life.  Talking to an unseen God, to me, will always be a challenge of faith.  Especially when you're done talking and you don't hear anything in response...then it's really hard to "keep your chin up" and the eyes of your heart peeled.  We are so used to a relationship involving conversation and the last time I checked, when someone doesn't talk back to you when you're talking to them, it can get awkward and downright frustrating.

I wrote something a while back on my battles with prayer and being in relationship with an unseen being who communicates in an inaudible voice...I never posted it, but I thought it might put into words what some people may feel.  My "prayer" is that it will begin a conversation about prayer than actually gets you or keeps you praying.  Prayer has been connected with "wrestling with God" in the Old and New Testaments...and I can't say that there is any other metaphor that sums it up any better.

If prayer is anything, it's honestly emoting to God at a gut level.  It's about finding a way of relating to God without dismissing your humanity.

I read stories of Job and his friends and I get a picture of struggling with God that allows for some fierce conversation and honest dialogue with God.  It seems that in the end, Job's friends were the one's rebuked for their "easy solutions".   This is not to say that Job wasn't told by God what's what and who's who in chapter's 38-42, but God seemed to welcome the honesty as opposed to the cloaked and edited conversations of a person afraid to enter into honest relationship with God.

The Psalms to me are a great springboard for honest dialogue as well...especially the first 20 chapters which are replete with examples of extreme emotion being shared all the while the Psalmist is so-called "worshiping".  

"My God, My God why have you forsaken me"  "Why are you deaf"  "Why are you far away" "Arouse yourself", "Break the teeth of the wicked" ect, ect.  

The writer has to understand that his writing could be interpreted as arrogant and insolent, but he seems to realize that God wants and welcomes real questions and heartache, not watered down prayers that hide behind a fear of being irreverent.  We see that in some of the same Psalms, the writer recongnizes God's love and power.  So how could both of these emotions dwell simultaneously?  It seems God gives room for questioning and worshipping at the same time.  Just because someone questions with tenacity and terror doesn't mean they are aborting faith, it may mean they are pressing in harder than ever.  It may mean that they aren't accepting easy answers and effortless solutions...they may want to wrestle in order to enter into rest.

The depth of my discouragement with prayer comes from my desire to see the things I read about in the Scriptures happen around me and through me and in me, and I get tired of reading about shadows healing people and lepers cleansed and bleeding being stopped with the touch of a garment without ever experiencing "in the ballpark" things in my ministry.  We talk about following Christ, but it seems that we just assume that is all attitudinal growth...but when it comes to duplicating the actual dealings and activities of becomes difficult to do.  There was so much of the miraculous in the New Testament...and so little of it in the church today.  I know the theological arguments for why these things aren't happening today...and to me, they are strangely arguments from silence more than Scripture. 

I don't want to spend much time on that line of thinking, I just want to convey that I desire to see God move miraculously...and experience precious little of it compared to the Bible.  Sure, lives are being changed around me and "there is no miracle so powerful as the conversion of the human heart" and "every breath I breath is a miracle of God"...these things, though true, are diversions from the comparing/contrasting I'm seeking to do with the actual Bible.  I feel sometimes like I have to fill in the blanks with arguments from silence and reinventions of the miraculous to sooth my heart and the hearts of many who wonder why there's such a discrepancy between the Bible we read and the lives we lead.

I realize that I error on the side of disclosure and honesty in my writings at times and my frustration with the gap between my knowledge of God and my experience with God...and there are times when I'm sure it does damage to someone's fragile faith.  

But the edited life, though it's effects cannot be categorized and cataloged, seems, to me, to be much more destructive.  This is why I love books like Lamentations..."the Book of Depressions"'s gritty, raw, unorthodox and quite disconcerting...and the author isn't necessarily concerned with truth as much as being true to himself.  We know as we read chapter 1-3 that what he's saying is just his perspective and that his accusation and frustrations are unfounded and absurd...but they're true to him, because it's what he feels and thinks and sees.  Sure, we can rush right to the couple verse where he says, "your mercy is new every morning, great is your faithfulness."...but in our discomfort to grapple with reality, we tend to discount and discredit the rest of the story, when God chose to inspire it.  All the words are inspired...not just the ones that make for great Hymns of the faith.  The gravel in the mouth and the broken teeth and the desperation of a heart that made him want to throw in the towel he was so crushed and confused.  We need some of those prophets out there to...

This is just my response to times when people feel like I share too honestly or irreverently in my blog...whether on prayer, church, myself, or the world around me.  I don't write flippantly when I write...I think hard and write with trepidation as I pen my thoughts.  I want to engage the truth no matter where it leads...and sometimes it leads to hard questions and harder answers.

God doesn't need me and I'm nothing compared to him.  He doesn't owe me anything for sure.  I deserve much less than He's given me and I'm grateful for his mercy on my poor soul.  But that's not the issue to me...the issue to me is recognizing that I've been created to interact freely with him and that he cares about what I have to say.  He doesn't have to...but he does.  He doesn't have to listen, but he does.  He doesn't have to do anything he doesn't want to do.  He's God...and I have no idea what it's like to be Him.  

But that's just the thing, I'm coming to him from where I'm coming from, and He's coming to me from where He's coming from.  And for me to try to come to Him like I'm God, and for me to ask Him to come to me like He's Jason isn't possible.  So I simply come to him with my honest feelings 'cause that's what I witness people doing that I respect in the Bible.  There are times when I don't question and just thank Him for who He is and what he does.  I stand in awe of Him 'cause I really do love him deeply.  But then there are times when I don't get Him, so I enter into conversation with Him about those areas that are leaving me jaded and jostled. 

I can't make everyone relate to God like I do...and I can't expect that I'm right and everyone else is wrong.  For some, I'm sure they don't need as much evidence or feel as much's partly a personality thing, I guess.  And that's great.  In some ways, I wish I was more like that kind of person.  I don't think they are checking their brains at the door for being that way.  But I know that I'd be checking my brains at the door if I responded that way.  

There are some Bible characters that had unflinching faith in God without so much as a hint of doubt...there are others who were basket cases.  Both were used by God to author the Bible and convey His heart to the world.  I hope that my relationship with God is cracking open more hearts than it's injuring, even though it's not airtight and air brushed.

And that is why I love the Bible and the God of the Bible and being in relationship with Him, because I feel I can be myself with him.  I can be myself in prayer and tell it like I see it, and in patience God sets the drag and lets me go and after I "tell it like I see it", he lovingly "tells it like it is."  

Prayer is an honest relationship, warts and all.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Murphy's Law and Following God...

“If something can go wrong, it probably will.”
Murphy’s Law

Some humorous adaptations of that pessimistic theory…

1. If everything seems to be going well, you have obviously overlooked something.
2. Matter will be damaged in direct proportion to its value.
3. The chance of the buttered side of the bread falling face down is directly proportional to the cost of the carpet.
4. The greater the value of the rug, the greater the probability that the cat will throw up on it.
5. If you pick up a chunk of broken concrete and try to pitch it into an adjacent lot, it will hit a tree limb and come down right on the driver's side of your car windshield.
6. You will always find something in the last place you look.
7. The other line always moves faster.
8. Anything dropped in the bathroom will fall in the toilet.
9. Shin: A device for finding furniture.
10. If you’re a nurse, that enema you gave to a person four hours ago will always produce a huge code brown just five minutes before you end of your shift.

I came up with my own in relation to wanting to make a difference for God…

1. When you become a threat to Satan, buckle up for battle.
2. When you volunteer to serve in ministry, prepare for your electricity to go out that night at home.
3. When you sense God stirring your heart to change, anticipate a phone call with dump truck load of bad news.
4. If you’re making a move toward affecting change in the world, get ready for temptation to descend on you like a rabid pterodactyl.
5. If you’re trying to do the right thing, you can bet on all hell breaking loose and raining down a deluge of depression, disaster and destruction beyond the furthest reaches of your most soaring imaginings.  And I’m not kidding.

When you make an attempt, Satan will make an attack.
When you seize an opportunity, Satan will send an opposition.

“A new level, a new devil.”

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

An old birthday letter to my dad...trying to explain my feelings for my father.

To everyone who has an unspeakable connection to their father or longs for an ineffable connection with their father...this is a letter I wrote to my dad in 2008 for his 60th communicates my heart for him to this day.  I not sure why, but I was drawn to reread some of the communications I'd had with him over the last several years and when I read these thoughts I shared with him 4 years ago, my heart lurched inside my chest.  I hope it will cause you to reach out to your fathers today, some to thank them, some to apologize to them, some of the forgive them, some to mend the tear in the relationship.  One thing is for sure, there is some mysterious connection that God puts in our hearts with our father...I can barely explain it, but in this letter, I try my my best...

To my Dad:

Well, this may come as a surprise to you, but I’ve been dreading this day.  There are few things that fill me with more grief than watching my parents get older.  It’s hard for me to not keep going down that road of thought to what another year of age is eventually leading to in the end.  I know…that’s morbid, but it’s the truth.

I wish I could put you in a time capsule and spend the next 27 years catching up to you.  Then, for my 60th birthday, I could take you out and we could both move into our 60’s together.  Walking through the woods with arthritic knees and ankles, bird-watching like it appears old folks have a penchant for, taking our time and growing old together.  The dream would be to die together so that neither of us would have to live with the other’s absence.  You see, these are the things that bounce around in my head as I think about your birthday and even feel my own life slipping through my once youthful fingers.

But I guess it’s no good rushing to imagining life apart from you just yet…cause you’re still around.  And there’s something that your life does inside me that makes my living a whole lot easier.  Even though you’re alive far, far away, your life still holds me together.  Just the knowledge that you are moving about, taking care of mom, shepherding a small church and preparing a homily every week keeps me centered and secure.  It’s funny how a dad being alive binds up a son’s life.

I’m not lying, though, when I say I hate you getting older.  I hate the thought of being far away from you and missing such large chunks of life…you, mine, and me, yours.  This seeing each other a few times a year and, that, only for a couple days at a time business is for the birds.  I would love to live down the road from you watching your car go by when you’re heading to the store to get the paper.  I would love to stroll down the shoulder of the country road with my daughters to go to grandma and grandpas for dinner on a Friday night followed by a tractor ride in the woods.  I would love to see the chimney smoke ascending into the cool autumn air from across the rolling hills.  I would love my daughters to get weekly horsy rides on your knees, hearing you laugh and sing circus songs all the while tossing them back and forth with grandfatherly affection.  There are many things that I wish for, and yet, life has not unfolded so badly, right?

I do have much to be thankful for, that’s for sure.  In the times that I do see you, my cup is filled up to overflowing.  You have no idea what remains in my heart for days as I drive away or watch you drive away after a short reunion.  As a son, I reflect on my conversations with you, rehashing the things you shared and the voice you shared them with.  I remember the cheesy jokes and the lines on your face.  I beat myself up for either not asking you more questions or not listening hard enough when you were sharing.

Sometimes, when I’m driving home from Oswego and the rest of the car is napping, my remembrances will bring tears to my eyes simply because I know that our times together are few and far between, and as a son, I’m on my own again.  Sometimes I don’t feel old enough to do what I’m doing.  I wonder if I’m in over my head.  I question my abilities to carry out such noble responsibilities.  The farther I move away from your presence, the easier it is for me to doubt my capacity to bear up under the weight of manhood.  I know that you think I’m much stouter of heart than you, but the honest truth is that I find a great deal of the strength I exhibit in the steadfastness of your heart. 

When I see the faithfulness of your life, your simple love for broken people, and your loyalty to one community…it bolsters my heart with a peace that carries me along.  The older I get, the more I realize that the best and the biggest parts of who I am are rooted in you and your investment in my life.  I lean on those formative years of training and modeling where you showed us what it looked like to please God.  You didn’t do it with pretension and pride, you lived with a simple and humble heart…you still do.

It is that simple and humble life that I am most desiring to emulate as I husband my wife, father my children and pastor my congregation.  I’ve always admired the way you take such joy in the small things of life.  You’ve always been thankful for what you have, whether little or great.  I just don’t remember you complaining hardly at all growing up, though I’m sure you faced many circumstances that warranted some negativity.  That just wasn’t you. 

There are so many things about you that flood my memory as I honor your life right now.  So many sacrifices.  So many small and thankless deeds.  So many silent contributions.  So many timely words given at critical moments in my life.  So many long hours of hard work to provide for our family.  So many taxing seasons of life.  So many huge decisions.  So many temptations you’ve overcome.  So many nights of tucking us in and praying with us.  So much money spent for our enjoyment.  So many tireless hours of parenting.  So many disappointments that you’ve pressed through.  I could go on and on.

I’m just so grateful that you’re my father.  I could never write a long enough letter or think up good enough words to represent the feelings pounding in my heart right now, but I hope my life is being lived as a “Thank You” letter for all that you’ve done for me and been to me.  All the lives I touch and all the love I spread is a result of your fathering.  I hope I can continue to make you proud as I seek to pour out into others what you beautifully poured into me.

I love you, Dad.  I hope you can sit back and take joy in the life you’ve lived, because that’s what I’m doing today and it’s quite a life to remember.  Happy 60th Birthday.

Your indebted son…


Thursday, July 12, 2012

What I long for in the church...

What does my heart increasingly hunger for in the church?  (this is just today's urges and inklings...I think it flows into our theme this year of "Simpler.  Deeper.  Richer.  Fuller."  Here are a few thoughts that fill my mind today:

-Simplicity.  There are days when I find myself worn out at the thought of church.  It has so much going on most of the time there isn’t time for anyone to breathe let alone listen to God.  I wish more people stayed at home with their families at night.  I wish there weren’t so many services each week.  If I could boil down the two things a church should provide it would be:           
            -A Collective Gathering focused on Celebration and Enlightenment. (Weekend)
            -A Communal Gathering focused on Conversation and Ministry. (Weekdays)
It would be so awesome if the rest of the week an emphasis could be placed on family, friendship, and community involvement.  The church cannot monopolize people’s time and energy and expect them to engage their world with creative passion.  Church must be looked forward to as a deposit, not a withdrawal.  This does not mean that people are consumers; it just means that church shouldn’t drain people, it should fill them.  A move toward simplicity would be a refreshing change in our modern church culture.

-Artistry.  There shouldn’t be an occasion of boredom in the church; it should be invigorating and stimulating.  It should be innovative and unpredictable.  It should be creative and imaginative.  I think the word artistry wraps up all these words into one.  Everyone has creative talents and energy to contribute to this kind of environment.  Whether people like to read, paint, write, build, draw, design, speak, or sing, the church should be an epicenter of artistic activity.  For far too long the church has been on the outside looking in when it comes to creativity and originality.  I love being a part of a community of artisans.

-Ministry.  Needs met.  It’s that simple.  Not wants met.  Needs.  People deepest and rawest needs.  Everyone is broken, some more fractured than others, but everyone suffers from a brokenness of some sort and it’s only in the presence of other human beings that true healing can be experienced.  “Confess your brokenness one to another that you may be healed.”  James 4.  Ministry = Healing.  I long to see a community unleashed to heal each other, not relying on the pastor to bind up wounds and shepherd hearts, but feeling empowered to ask questions, provide counsel, lend an ear, pay attention and do battle against the enemy for a brother or sister-in-arms.  Ministry occurs when everyone is aware that they are responsible to bring healing and freedom to each other…each and every day.

-Honesty.  Nothing else matters if this element isn’t an overarching value.  “I’m free when I’m me.”  If people are not being themselves, if they are somehow changing hats or covering up or toning down when they get around each other in a church setting…we are just plain fooling ourselves to call ourselves the church.  Church should be the one place where you can be real, can let down, can open up.  If you’re struggling with something it does no good to pretend your something you’re not.  I can’t wait to kill the poser in each one of us that keeps us from experiencing the joy of honest to goodness living.

-Energy.  Words that come to mind when I think about this component are words like Anticipation, Expectancy, Alive, Excited, Engaged.  No one waits for something to happen, they make it happen.  They purpose in their hearts to create an atmosphere that fosters laughter, trust, tears, and life.  They don’t come to church to worship, they come worshipping to church.  There isn’t a possibility for people to experience the Spirit, if the church isn’t full of spirit.  We must celebrate life, culture, and beauty.  Energy is the result of those who love life and live love.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The adoption is so close I can almost taste it...

The world is about to change.  Maybe not your world, but definitely our world.  Our boys are our there and I feel strongly that we are nearing their arrival.

Mind you, we haven't gotten the call of referral from our adoption agency, but I can feel something inside preparing for their entry into our lives.  A shift that opens up soul space.  A birth pang of sorts that creates contractions of urgency.  Foretastes of what has yet to happen are pestering may palate.  Have you ever heard someone say, It's so close I can almost taste it?  Yeah, that.

I know they are breathing on this planet right now.  It's not like they are yet to be born, they are born.  They are very much in this world, but not yet ours.  They are alive, but my fear is they aren't alive and well.  They are with someone, but they are not with their parents, their family, their home.  I wonder if they can almost taste it, too?  I wonder if they can feel the soul shift occurring in their little hearts way over there in Ethiopia?  I pray so.

I hope God is opening up space in their hearts for us.  I hope he is preparing their little spirits to merge with ours.  God must be the grafter and gardener.  He must be the crafter and dovetailer.  He must be the advocate, mediator and ambassador...speaking to them for us, speaking to us for them.  He is the "go between", the matchmaker.  He is the one arranging this marriage of lives.  He knows them right now.  He knows us right now.  I wonder if He is dying to introduce us to each other?  I wonder if He's chomping at the bit to "orchestrate the encounter"?  I have to imagine He's coordinating the details as I write.  But it just feels like it's a coordination in the clouds.

I wish it would come to earth.  Be real.  That our faith would become sight.  That our prayers and dreams would become flesh and blood.  If Jesus came in the "fulness of time", I pray that same fulness of time for our adoption.  It seems ripe in my heart.  It seems right in our home.

I feel like time couldn't be fuller.  Like a drop of mercury we hang on that moment when we get the call to go get our children.  I wonder if it's the same feeling Jesus has as he waits for His Father to give him the "go ahead" to get his children.  No wonder that moment is called the rapture....because that is what fills every fiber of your being.  Rapture unspeakable.

So I say concurrently...

Lord Jesus, come quickly.
Joshua and Caleb, come quickly.

Waiting for the rapture today.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

I wish I could...oh, wait...I can.

My youngest daughter graduated and is leaving for college this morning.  Where have the years gone?  I remember everyone telling me things like: "You blink and they're all grown up." or "The older they get the faster time goes by." or "Savor each moment cause your kids won't be with you forever."  I'm sitting here pondering those thoughts and wondering how time got away from me.

I wish I would have taken more time to play in the yard with them when they were younger.  They kept asking me to play tag or jump on the trampoline or kick the soccer ball with them and for some reason I made up some reason why I was too busy or too tired.  It was somehow always too hot or too late.  Words like: "I just ate, so go outside and I'll join you when the food digests."  They would run along and I would sit in front of the evening news fully knowing I wasn't going to move a muscle.  Maybe tomorrow.

They wanted me to make them an omelet or play hide and seek or color on the kitchen table.  They wanted me to listen to them read a book, help them with a science project, or build a fort out of couch cushions.  They would persist and somehow I would resist.  Somehow, I figured out a way to put them off for years and they never gave up asking me to join them.

They would make up games in the car and I would listen to them in the back seats laughing all the while thinking about what I had to get done tomorrow at work.  I saw them buckled in their car seats thinking I had all the time in the world to spend time with them.  I even remember thinking that it would be easier when they got older because they could understand more and relate to me better.  What was I thinking?

I remember rushing them around frustrated by how distracted they would get with "stupid" things, which were really simple things.  A turtle laying eggs in the yard.  A soccer ball that they just couldn't resist running out toward and kicking just when we were leaving to go somewhere.  The final minute of an "I Love Lucy" episode.  But I would just be so irritated that they weren't obeying immediately. "Delayed obedience is disobedience." right?  I even remember thinking, "Why can't they just grow up?"

I would rush them to bed cause I didn't want to miss my favorite show, barking out orders like drill sergeants: "Stop fooling around and brush your teeth!"  "Stop singing that stupid song and get your pajamas on!"  "Quit fighting with your sisters and do what you're told!"  What I would give to have them around to "drive me nuts" again...cause today I feel like everything I thought was annoying was actually what made life enjoying.  I wish I would have know that while it was happening.

They would get a song in their head like "It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas..." and would sing it over and over again in the middle of July.  I would sit there and tell them to "knock it off".  They would laugh loud about something while I was trying to watch the game, and I would tell them to "go upstairs".  They would be tickling each other while I was praying for our food and I would scold them.  I never thought to cherish those moments of childlike suspension.  I never thought to enter in with them.

I thought as the years went on I would "get my act together", find more time to relax, and connect with them more...but every year seemed to bring with it new challenges (I always called distractions felt easier to excuse.)  But excuses seemed to accompany every season of my life.

"Hang on."
"Just a second."
"Maybe in a little bit."
"I will when I get done with this."
"We'll see."

When you're a new parent you wish you could fast forward.  When you're an old parent you wish you could rewind.  I replay the invitations I was given along the way to participate in my daughter's lives and I relive the ways I would delay their invitations and procrastinate.  Time and time again I would be in the middle of a moment of meaning and I would trade that moment for personal space.  Over and over again they would pull on my pant leg and I would hold up my index finder and whisper "Just one more minute."  They would wait out in the back yard for me to get off my cell phone.  Eventually, they would move on to something else and I would get caught up in something else and the moment was gone.  But back then, it just felt like one little moment.  I didn't realize that when you lump moments together, they become minutes.  And one little minute moves into another little minute until you're packing up a car and taking your last child to college.

I wish I could go back to when they were little on the 4th of July and just get on a pontoon boat and share a picnic lunch and dive into the cool lake with them and snuggle with them in towels under the hot sun.

Oh, wait.  Today is July 4th and my daughters are 13, 11, and 8 and we're heading to the lake to ride a pontoon and swim in the cool waters on this hot and humid afternoon!  I don't have to wish I could go back because I'm here!

Now. Here.

Funny how when you put those words together it spells "nowhere".

Which place will you be today?  What space will you occupy?

Monday, July 02, 2012

Great job, but I just didn't get it.

"Dad, you probably did a great job, but I just didn't get it."

This was a piece of a conversation I had with Aly last night as we talked about the day and asked her about being in "Big Church" now and listening to me speak.  She graduated a couple weeks ago from KidZone and now attends the service where she "gets to" hear her dad wax eloquent about matters of faith.  Ok, to her, she gets to hear her dad monologue.  I'm sure this is every 11 yr. olds dream.  "Boy, I can never get enough of hearing my dad talk to me and tell me what to do.  I can't wait for Sunday to hear him talk uninterrupted for 40 minutes straight while I sit still and listen intently, hanging on his every word!"  You get my point.

When she said what she said, I chuckled and tucked it away for a blog post.  Mostly cause I know this isn't just the sentiment of a budding 6th grader, this is a good many people's thought when they leave church each week.  And it's not just the church I go to, it's churches across the land filled with people who recognize that something just happened that was supposedly significant and it was probably pretty good, but they just didn't get it.

I wonder how many weekends I do "a great job" and people leave and "don't get it".  It's not that they didn't understand the data or laugh at the drama, but it didn't stick to the inner parts in a way that changes something.  Some may disagree with me, but we are not dying as church in America for lack of great sermons or good books on God or awesome podcasts that can be listened to on road trips...we are dying because, for all the great communication happening, very little of it is connecting deeply to our souls and changing our actual lives.  We just "don't get it".

Most of the time, my daughters will talk to me about my funny stories or my dopy antics, but when it comes to the question, "What did you learn?" they fight to come up with something.  I can tell they really want to if only to shore up my leaking identity (hehe).  They don't want their dad to feel like he was like the old Indian said: "Lots of dust, lots of wind, but no rain."  Yeah, I'm fearful that for all the dust kicked up and the hot air blowing around like a whirlwind, at the end of the day there isn't the much needed rain.  And when there isn't any rain, it doesn't matter how good a job you did, the crops die.  The harvest is pitiful.  When the roots are dry, the fruits die.  It's that simple.

I don't want to do a good job as much as I want people to "get it".  The cost of people continuing to not "get it" can hardly be calculated.

Back to my daughter:  More than anything in the world I want her to get it.  Even if I'm not "good", I would rather she gets it.  I don't think there's a more important prayer as a parent, and there certainly isn't a more important prayer as a pastor.