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Saturday, May 26, 2012

My wife's birthday...and the backstory that makes it special.

As I was floating in my mother's amniotic fluid in May of 1974, a little baby girl was born in Iowa, 2 months before my own birth into this cruel, yet beautiful world.  Like an astronaut tethered with an oxygen tube to a space station, I was floating with an anti-gravitational bliss tethered with an umbilical chord to my own source of space and meaning, my mother.  I was in Denver.  How could I have known that a little baby girl was being born in Des Moines that would be my wife?  But there she was, entering this world like the early bird getting the worm, a two month jump on me in this mystery called life.

We didn't meet each other for 18 years until our freshman year of college.  But she was well taken care of upon our introduction.  She was the daughter of a dad she adored and still adores to this day.  He protected her heart like he was guarding the Ark of the Covenant.  He prayed for her every morning as he woke early and knelt beside the couch brooding over her soul like the Holy Spirit hovered over the waters at the genesis of the world.  He prayed for me before he knew me.  He fought for her heart when someone would treat her unjustly...that made her feel protected.  He bought her treats after school  and when she would tilt her head in the passenger seat it would guilt him into stopping by the gas station for a goody...those things made her feel special.

He drove countless miles to pick her up from parties that were getting unruly and making her feel uncomfortable...he did this without was the least he could do to shield her from any innocence-violating movies or conversations, or situations.  She always felt he would do anything or travel anywhere to rescue her from harm's way.  He never made her feel like she was "in the way" or "asking too much".  He took care of things.

In fact, just a couple years ago I said, "I'll take care of it." She about cried and said, "That's what my dad would say all the time."  No matter what it was, her dad would take care it, take care of her.  She knew she was spoken for.  He would go to the store to get her feminine hygienic products late into the evening, he would clean her car and fill it with gas, he would run an errand so she could go out with friends, he would fix dinner and clean the plates off the table and wash the dishes so that she could enjoy the evening.  He would love her mother with such a sacrifice that she never had to lay in bed wondering whether "Mom and Dad" were ok.  She just knew deep in her heart that they were in love with each other for better or worse till death did them in.  Because of this, she slept like a baby her whole life, secure and safe within the undying, unconditional love of her parents, and the bastion of her home.

This is not to minimize the love of her mother...believe me, I could go on and on about that relationship that is more of a friendship with a best friend than anything else, but today, I'm thinking of that moment when I was standing at the wedding and her dad, David Cortner, said these words that hit me like a ton of two-by fours, "Her mother and I."  It was the classic response to the question asked by the officiant, "Who gives this woman to be married to this man?"  I stood there as he placed his beautiful girl in my care, under the banner of my love.  This is a hand off that doesn't get enough time in the wedding ceremony, especially when you've been sheltered under the banner of love that my wife enjoyed from the day she was born.  I remember putting out my arm, and him tucking her arm under mine and sheepishly turning toward the altar.  I shutter at the thought of it all.  I was going to take this girl from her daddy, who, truth be told, loved her more in that moment than I did.  Let's be real, there's no way that my romantic love for her the last 4 years leading up to our wedding could eclipse the sacrificial and sensational love of her parents for the last 22 way.  And unflinchingly he gave her to me to "lay down my life for" as he had.  He expected that I would drive any distance to rescue her from a compromising situation.  He expected that I would never put any of my ambitions above her or let any other woman pull my heart away from the exclusive affection hers required, deserved.

He didn't flake out, and he trusted I wouldn't either.  He didn't slack off even in the hard moments, and his eyes told me that he believed I would carry that same torch.  He was the watchman on the walls looking out for danger and he was handing off that devout responsibility to me.  And I felt the weight of it all, but not anything like I do today.  The weight of taking care of her is mine.

And I'm not sure why I felt the urge to take this written journey into the backstory of her birthday today, but I guess I just feel like the token well-wishes don't come close to honoring the weight of one's life.  It's not just a's a life.  And as the man who promised that he would cherish this life that has been cherished from the beginning, I wanted to renew my vows to do so on this special day.

I feel the weight of my calling to carry on the care that you've been given since the day your were born,  and though my love for you couldn't compare to the love your father had for you on our wedding day, my love for you now makes his affection pale into a pleasant backdrop at best.  I will take it from here, my bride, and live to honor the love that has taken care of you all along, from Des Moines to Clarks Summit to Bellefontaine and now in Lowell.  I will take care of you from now until the end of time...

I love you, babe.


Thursday, May 24, 2012

My Daughter, 13th Birthday, Purity Ring and a Daddy's Heart...

My Dearest Kami,

It hardly seems possible that you are a teenager!  13 years old!  A teenager...AHHHHHHHHH!  Where did the time go?  How did we get here so quickly?  How did you become such a beautiful young woman along the way?
I was thinking about some things today that I wanted to tell you on your 13th birthday “just so you know”.  I can’t believe how many dads don’t actually talk to their daughters about their feelings or their dreams or their pride in their little feminine hearts.  I hope I never turn into that dad.  So in order to prevent that, I thought I’d list some things that I love about you.

- I love how you look at the bright side of things instead of dwelling on what is wrong with the world.  I know that most parents aren’t blessed with a daughter that writes all over stuff, “I love my life!”  This is a treasure.

- I love how you love to snuggle morning, noon, or night.  You fold into my arms and wrap yourself around my body like a blanket.  You have always been this way, soaking in that intimate time of connection with me like a co-dependant Kuala bear.

- I love how active you are and how you want to be in the middle of where the action is.  You hate been left out of conversation or decisions because God made you to be in the center of “life-changing” moments adding your two cents to make the world a better place, to make the conversation a better conversation, to make the story of life a better story.

- I love how much you love little children and are especially geeked about having two little brothers added to our family.  I know that you will take care of them with all your heart and pour yourself into their little lives almost like a mother.  That is going to be awesome to watch you use your gift of compassion through adoption.

- I love how passionate you are about technology and connectivity with the world around you (though it gets consuming and distracting at times).  I believe God made you to be connected and as you get older I hope you’ll take that gift to help others get connected to God and not just pics and texts and links and pinterest and instagram!  That is the most important connection you could help someone make.

- I love how unabashedly feminine you are!  I love how you love wearing dresses and skirts and makeup.  I love how you love to paint your nails and priss up for school each day.  You are such a beautiful person with a beautiful soul and it shines through your desire to be a truly feminine young woman. I see it how you dance...the elegance, the tenderness, the strength.

- I love your heart for God even though you are just beginning to learn how to live that out in your world.  Even the other night when we were having a conversation about your relationship with Jesus and seeing your tears of desire to be closer to him and hearing your comment on how life gets worse when you don’t take time to spend with him and make him #1 in your life...those tears were priceless.  This is probably what I love about you most and the thing I pray most deeply stays throbbing inside your heart throughout your life.
Which brings me to the next part of this 13th Birthday Letter...the part where I tell you who you really are and my deepest prayer for your life going into the future.  Buckle up, this could be deep, but it comes from the deepest place inside your Father’s Heart.  It might not even make sense until you get older.

#1 – Your mother and I have prayed for you from the beginning that God would give you a strong heart.  Even more than a tender heart, I have prayed for you to have the strength of a thousand warriors.  You will continue to need strength to fight off the evil and to fight for the good in this world and others around you.  I pray that your will rebel against rebellion and love all that is love.

#2 – From the day you were born, we knew that you were special, but not because of the physical challenges you were faced with.  We knew that God wouldn’t have allowed you to have these physical attributes if he hadn’t chosen to make you a “unique soul” to take those obstacles and turn them into opportunities...opportunities to show everyone around you what it looks like to live free and happy regardless of what life throws at you.  You do that all the time...I don’t know if you’re aware of that.  I want you to be known for that all your days.

#3 – As I give you this ring today, I obviously want you to make a promise to your mother and I to keep yourself pure for marriage by not having sex until after you’re married to the husband God has prepared for you even now though you haven’t met yet. (By the way, we are praying this for him as well.) But we are also making a promise to you to pray for you diligently to have the strength to carry out that promise when times of peer pressure from friends and the patterns of this world whisper to you, “It’s not big deal…everyone’s doing it.”  I pray that you will know immediately that this is a lie.  Remember Josh and Leslie’s wedding and Dave and Lindsey’s wedding and how powerful those wedding were in comparison to others precisely because they guarded their purity until their wedding night.  Believe me when I say that you will never regret staying sexually pure. 

#4 – I hope purity will not just mean not having sex until marriage.  As we’ve talked recently, we hope you will have a pure heart that is seen in how you talk to people and bless others with your life.  We hope you will be pure in your choices and that you won’t let lying, cheating, laziness, bitterness, jealously, gossip and anger to darken your heart and make you selfish.  Purity to me is a “selfless life”.  A life lived for God and others instead of self.  We hope this purity just pours out of you so much so that others witness your life and want to be like you because you’re like Jesus.

#5 – You have asked Jesus to come and live inside your heart by His Spirit.  There is nothing that is more important to your mother and I than that decision you’ve made. In some ways, you will have to make that decision on some level everyday waking up and making Jesus #1 in your life.  You are the “best you” when you are obedient to God and surrendered to His desires for your life.  You are full of joy and positivity and passion and freedom and compassion for the world.  When you make life about you, you dry up and become insecure and fearful and selfish.  That is not who you are.  Deep in your heart you are God’s daughter and when you live to make him proud he fills you with pleasure...deep pleasure.
#6 – Lastly, I want you to know that your mother and I are very proud of you...who you are, who you’ve become and who you are becoming every day we see you grow into the woman God had in mind when he formed you inside your mommy 13 years ago.  I want you to know something...and you have to stop and really read this with all your attention, ok?  Your mom and I love you unconditionally.  What that means is that no matter where you go, what you do, for better or worse, in good times and in bad times, when life is going well and when life is falling apart...we will always be here for you.  We will never leave you or let you go.  Even when you get marriage someday, we will let you leave us, but we will not let you go from our will always be our daughter and as such, you will always have a special place in our home and hearts.  And one other thing, if you ever grown up and have a hard time, we will help you no matter where you are.  And if anyone hurts you, I will drive through the night, I will find you wherever you are, and I will rescue you.  You never have to wonder if you are alone, because you will never be alone, we are going to be with you your whole life no matter where you go.  You may not live in our home someday, but you will never stop living in our heart.  You are and will always be our daughter.  Ok?
So on your 13th birthday, this glorious day, this special day...I hope you will feel deep in your heart the presence of God, your heavenly Father who loves you even more than we do, the presence of your grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins who know you’re the first grandchild of the extended family and value you beyond your imagination, the presence of your sisters who love you and look up to you more than you could ever know, and the presence of your Daddy and Mommy who cherish you as our firstborn gift from God.  You are surrounded by so many people who love you and would drop everything to do anything for you at a moment’s notice.  Not many young women have that kind of love to live in, protecting them and praying for them.  You do.

Your mother and I love you and celebrate your life today.  You bring us great joy (and laughter) and we’re praying that this purity ring always reminds you of God’s love for you and our love for you every time you look at it.   You are precious.  You are beautiful.  You are one-of-a kind. 

But more than anything, you are ours, and you always will be.

Happy Birthday, Kami!  We love you.  XOXOXOX

Daddy and Mommy

Monday, May 21, 2012

The myth of multi-tasking and our desire for meaning...


Easier said than done, but probably easier thought than said.

That's where it has to begin, a shift of belief or thought.  We have to believe at the core that simpler doesn't mean lazier.  I think we all get the sense that when we don't "multi-task" we're uneducated clods who can't chew gum and walk at the same time.  We want to be known as a "high capacity" humans who can accomplish great feats of strength while battling strep throat and kidney stones.  Undeterred, undaunted.

But this multi-tasking thing has really gone too far.  So what if you can do three things at once?  Big deal. So what?  The real question is how well are you doing each of the things you're juggling and how long can you do it before dilution leads to internal bankruptcy.  Just taking a cursory consensus on this kind of life, I'm seeing hearty starts and farty finishes.  I see people trying to impress everyone with their capacity to handle above-average loads (wide loads as seen on the highway), but over time, people get used to their spastic over-commitement and move on to the next impressive thing leaving that person left with the load but missing the motivation that came from people's comments of commendation for the breakneck speed and bent-over backwards sacrifice.  When overexertion becomes commonplace and expected as a're up the creek!  Burnout isn't far away.

Simplicity is becoming more popular these days.  Not just simplicity, but slowing down.  Eating slowly, driving slowly, making love slowly, playing with your kids slowly.  We are used to rushing meaning, cramming it into scheduled moments of time, and that cancels out what meaning is inherently.  Meaning comes when a person makes room for it.  You can't force meaning, you can't coerce it into a slot of time, you can't rush it to produce your desired outcome by x o'clock.  Meaning will not be trifled with like a two-dime prostitute.  Meaning demands appreciation and relaxation and simplification.  She won't stand in a line-up of other blind-dates hoping to get picked.  She won't even go on a blind date...she knows who she is and her identity doesn't need your validation.  Meaning is comfortable in her skin.  She only gives herself to those who respect her and themselves.  She certainly isn't going to be reduced to being penciled into your day-timer.  She isn't that kind of broad.

I think that's why the writer of Proverbs called wisdom by the name of "her".  Wisdom and meaning seem to function much less like a thing and more like a person.  She is treated with dignity...not demand.  She won't fit into your schedule.  She won't see how much time and energy you have leftover at the end of the day, taking the scraps.  She isn't going to give you what you want in the form of high-speed downloads.  She isn't going to be dragged and dropped onto your server in a folder for future reference.  You can't call on her to give you her delicacies if you treat her like an afterthought for the better part of each day.  No, meaning will only show up when she is seen as the primary object of your affection.  Granted, at times she will stab you unexpectedly in moments of busyness to remind you that she is waiting for your attention and affection, but most of the time, she leaves you to your devises and watches you wilt on the "vine of fine".

And when we're brittle and whittled down to our lowest survivable state, she whispers to us and says something like, "Remember me, I am the one to nourish you, to flourish you.  Will you quit adding me to your already busy life?  Will you say no to him, her, that or them in order to have me?  I am here for you, but not on your terms.  I am enjoyed when you pick two or three things that fit your skill set and sweet spot and do them with your whole heart.  I am annoyed when you want me to bless you with my presence in the middle of your nine all-important and especially-special things...I'm no where to be found in that life.  I'm sorry.  Less is more."

And this rambling is the cry of my soul for me, my marriage, my family, my friends, and my church.  If we ever expect to having meaning fill our souls, we must simplify.  doing two things well is better than doing 6 things decently.


Friday, May 18, 2012

Paradoxology - "The glory of God seen in absurdity."

paradoxology - "The glory of God seen in absurdity."

Don't you see this in your life?  God showing up in the craziest of places using the craziest of things and the craziest of people to accomplish the craziest of purposes.  As Phillip Yancey said, "Sometimes what you press into by faith only make sense when experiences it in reverse."

Reverse engineering.

Retrospect.  That's another word for it.  Or "hindsight is 20/20".  Right.  We come up with these little words to try to explain paradoxology.  That things often only make sense when we look back and see "the root out of dry ground" that we didn't see in the moment.

I think the Lord has been trying to show me how to trust him in the middle of paradox.  That in the same moment I can fully trust him and be filled with fear.  That I can really love my life and be nursing a low-grade fever of frustration.  That I can really revel in my job and at the same time want to pull my hair out when I'm trying to balance a budget or work through a conflict with someone.  That I can see God moving all around me and feel an absence of his presence deep within my heart.

That is why someone came up with the phrase: "Part of me feels...while another part of me feels..."

Yeah...paradox.  We have literally broken ourselves into "little selves" inside ourselves to reconcile this concurrent reality that is none other than "paradox".  The Psalmist said, "Why so downcast, oh my soul?" recognizing that talking to yourself about yourself is sometimes the most perfectly sane thing to do to maintain sanity.  You can completely be consecrated to God and your soul can be downcast within you.  I know, that seems odd.  But Odd and God aren't mutually exclusive in case you haven't been in the redemptive rodeo for all that long.

We want to make up out of I Cor. 14 that God is not a "God of confusion, but of order", yet the context is talking about crazy people making church a ridiculous show of "spiritual gifts" and looking to innocent bystanders like they were "cookoo for cocoa puffs" or "spiritual space cadets".  God doesn't do stupid things like that, but it doesn't mean that he won't use unlikely and unorthodox methods to move us toward "Christ-likeness".

I feel like a living paradox at times.  Like Moses who wanted God to kill him in the wilderness when the pressure of leading temperamental people just got to be too much all the while glowing while coming off the mountain because he has been in God's presence.  Like Elijah who just called down fire from heaven and routed the prophets of Baal only to be on the run from Jezebel the next day hiding out in the wilderness and flirting with thoughts of suicide.  Thankfully God met these "heroes of the faith" in the middle of their emotional mess and patiently let them be be real about their feelings.  "To bless in the mess"...this is God's tender way.

In almost every paradoxical case the pattern went something like this....

1. Ad"vent"ure leading to an emotional crash of the soul.
2. Venting out the deep and raw emotional sewage of the soul.
3. Ad"vent" where this coming of the new is surfacing in the soul.
4.  Back to Ad"vent"ure that takes you on the roller coaster once again.

and on and on and on...


I'm so glad that God seems to use this process in biblical leadership patiently leading us through each stage with trust and truth.  There is no one like Him.  It isn't "Sopranos Leadership" or "Trump Leadership" or "Stephen Covey Leadership" or even "Maxwell Leadership"...but the Bible is replete with examples of this paradoxology...God's glory being seen in the middle of the absurd.

I'm quite glad about this, because I don't think I could be in ministry/leadership if it weren't for the biblical evidence to support this sort of theory.

And maybe it is less theory and more theology.  But I'll leave that ratification to some scholar smarter than myself.

Thank you for your grace, Lord.  As I am graced by you, I will, in turn, be more gracious to myself and others all around me.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Simpler. Deeper. Richer. Fuller. - Theme for Impact this coming year.

Simpler. Deeper. Richer. Fuller.

This is our theme as a church heading into this next fiscal year (June 2012-2013).  For me, it couldn't be more timely.

I penned a vision for the year back in March and have changed it no less than 6 times.  It has gone from the extremes of gang rushing the gates of hell with water pistols to sitting alone in the woods and meditating as a congregation for a year straight with no talking or human interaction.  Some days I would want to take 4 more mountains and other days I would feel drawn to downsize my life so that my belongings could fit in a box and my family in a camper.  Some verses that I've encountered to drive my vision have unabashedly asked me to pour out my life as a drink offering and offer my head with John the Baptist for the greater good of the kingdom.  Other verses have caused me to question whether my leadership in church is nothing more than superficial activity.  If the early church made church about circumcision, I fear we could make it a circus.  I'm not sure if circumcision is much different than a circus when you really evaluate what drives a person to perform either of them.  Both are an outward show rather than an inner reality.

A couple weeks ago, I locked into a verse than wooed me.  I read over it again and again drawn to its simple beauty and singular priority.  I need that right now.  I think everyone does.

We studied this verse together as a staff this last week and developed a theme out of it that will drive our body in the coming year.  After 6 revisions of the vision, I finally feel I've gotten the heart of God for our body and I'm at peace with it.

Here is our theme verse which leads to our theme...

Spiritual Focus of for 2012/2012

**Verse for this Year:
Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” – I Peter 4:8

“Above all”:

What do you think of when you think of the words “Above All”?

Proverbs 4:23
- Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.

Matthew 6:33
- Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.

Colossians 3:14
- Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony.

Notice the stuff that is supposed to be "above all".  The Heart, the Kingdom, and Love.  And notice what we're supposed to do with each:
1. Guard the Heart
2. Seek the Kingdom
3. Wear the Love

Man, this is what I want my life, our church, and this world to be about in the year to come!  Worse than bad I want this.
“Love each other deeply”:

What do you think of when you think about “loving each other deeply”?

1 Peter 1:22
- You were cleansed from your sins when you obeyed the truth, so now you must show sincere love to each other as brothers and sisters. Love each other deeply with all your heart.

Isaiah 66:10-12 - “Rejoice with Jerusalem and be glad for her,
 all you who love her; rejoice greatly with her, all you who mourn over her. For you will nurse and be satisfied
 at her comforting breasts;
you will drink deeply 
and delight in her overflowing abundance.”

Is this what your life is about...depth.  Do you feel like your interactions with people are like two ships passing in the night?  Don't you find yourself lonely and longing for friendship of the deepest sort.  Friends of a certain ilk that are kindred and intimate, instead of event-based and transactional?  Yeah, that's what I want to make more time for in my schedule and more room for in my heart.  This is what I want our church to focus on in a world that wants them to love everything and thus, love nothing.  Remember what Proverbs said, "A man of many friends come to ruin, but there is a friend that sticks closer than a brother."  When we dilute ourselves by trying to do everything and please everyone, we end up ruined and empty.  Loving deeply...and drinking deeply of the overflowing abundance...yes, yes, yes!  
“Love covers over a multitude of sins.”:

What do you think of when you think of love covering over a multitude of sins?

Proverbs 10:12
- Hatred stirs up dissension, but love covers over all wrong.

Proverbs 17:9
- He who covers over an offense promotes love, but whoever repeats the matter separates close friends.

I want to become a person that covers and dignifies and forgives and offers mercy.  I want to blanket people with love.  If we are clothing ourselves with love, we will cover others with the selfsame love wherewith we've been clothed.  How could we let Christ clothe us with love and not offer than same extravagance?  Impossible.  Our church must be rich in love, abounding in love, crazy about love.  We must be a love culture that covers people's hurts and pains.  He covered my sin with his love, we must cover others' with ours.

**Theme for this Year:
Simpler. Deeper. Richer. Fuller.

These four words will drive what we say yes to.  We will simplify.  Pick one thing, maybe two...but stop trying to do 3,4, 5 or 6.  Stop it.  We will focus on a few things as a church that we want to do well and stop saying yes to every good idea.  We will also encourage people to do the same in their lives at home. We have to pick what God's called us to and to do it with our whole heart as unto the Lord.

We will go deeper.  Deeper in Life Groups.  Deeper in Accountability.  Deeper in Discipleship.  Deeper in Prayer and Worship.  Deeper into our community.  Deeper in our friendships with the world.  Deeper in our interaction and understanding of God's Word.  Deeper in our friendships.  Deeper in our families.  Deeper in our marriages.  Deeper in our gifts and abilities.  Deeper in the ways God has wired us...focusing on our sweet spots and deepening our use of God's gifts he's blessed us with.  Deeper.

We will be Richer.  Instead of being diluted down to a warm, watery and wimpy cup of coffee, we will be thick and rich with taste because the ingredients of our life are concentrated like concentrate.  We have simplified and deepened which causes our life to be tasty and delicious when others experience us.  We aren't bland and colorless.  We aren't stripped of joy and peace and life and love in our living.  No, these spiritual fruits are present in our moments, minutes, hours and days.  We are rich with meaning, not money.

We will be Fuller.  Instead of living empty because we're pouring ourselves into everything that haphazardly presents itself to us, we root ourselves in the "above all" priorities and principles.  1. Guard the Heart.  2. Seek the Kingdom.  3. Wear the Love.  And when we get opportunities or offers to give ourselves to something, we will choose the things that brings fullness to our lives instead of drain us of life.  We cannot keep living empty and expect the Life of Christ to be attractive through us.  It is a logical impossibility.  This doesn't mean that we won't do things at times that we don't like...but by and large we will be looking for things to fill our well so that when we pour ourselves out it comes from a deep reservoir of fullness.  The Psalmist says, "my cup runneth over".  That's what we want our lives to look like because we are living full lives.

All these things...simpler, deeper, richer, fuller...they all go together.  And instead of doing 3 more things this year, we're going to do the three things we did last year in simpler, deeper, richer and fuller ways.  No 3 new things this year...we are going to make the 3 things new.

Above each other deeply...cause love covers a multitude of sins.
- I Peter 4:8

Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh. Yessssssssssssssssssssssssssss!

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

My favorite things about being a pastor at Impact

My favorite things about being a pastor at Impact Church:

- Being the first one to hear a hidden story that someone has kept secret right up to the moment they muster up the courage to tell you.
- Being in a Life Group on our first night of this last series and having a person introduce himself to the group by admitting he's been sober for 6 days and just got out of a detox facility the week before.
- Being able to preach wearing shorts and flip flops.
- Seeing people who don't know much about God getting plugged into serving instead of waiting until they "know enough" or are "good enough".
- Seeing old people act young and young people act old.
- Seeing all generations unite together to ascertain what couldn't be achieved by one generation exclusively.
- Watching lay leaders become pastors of each other in the flock instead of relying on the "professional pastor".
- Worshipping with a band each week that "Jams for the Lamb" with humility and quality.
- Having a children's ministry that creates an experience for kids that excites them and educates them all at the same time.
- Seeing our student ministries catch the vision that they are the church of today, not the church of tomorrow.
- Knowing that Life Groups (little churches) are meeting all over a 20 mile radius each week to talk about God, each other, life and the Word.
- Being a part of a culture that values honesty and humanity without compromising morality and integrity.
- Seeing people flooding into church that aren't all cleaned up, but are strugglers looking for truth just like the rest of us.
- Being a part of a church that welcomes in people who smoke, chew, drink, swear, and smell.  People who are covered with tattoos and smell of booze for some reason know they can come to Impact and be loved, not judged.
- That said, I love that we are trying to help people out of hurts, hang ups and habits that steal, kill and destroy the life (and Kingdom) Jesus came to usher in.
- Seeing people who wouldn't normally get along or get together finding common ground at the foot of the cross.  Everyone is equal there.
- Seeing people baptized and hearing them tell their stories of redemption.
- Getting to serve with a ministry team of Christ-followers who lay down their lives for the people in their ministries, but aren't afraid to go outside their own job description to help another staff member in their ministry.  Love that!
- Seeing the churches in Lowell come together to pray every week for the community to be awakened to the ever-present love of God.
- Watching the gospel get to where it belongs...outside the church and into the streets.
- Getting to preach to and lead the best group of Christ-followers a pastor could ever ask for.

I'm so fortunate to do what I do and be in the position I am.

"In everything give thanks for the this is the will of Christ Jesus concerning you." - I Thess. 5

Saturday, May 05, 2012

Questions for a little child's heart from a Parent...

It was a simple moment, really.

I was sitting on the floor, Aly was sitting on the couch.  We were lounging just before bed.  Heidi was upstairs taking Tay to the woodshed for a misdemeanor of some sort.  Kami was gone on a Middle School retreat, so Aly and I were just sitting silent in the living room together.

The knee-jerk reaction is the turn on the television to break the awkward silence, if only to have some white noise in the background to distract you from the fact that you're alone in the same room together.  It's funny how much we hate simplicity and silence almost allergically reacting to its presence.  But I try to lean into these moments not letting them force my hand.

I leaned back against the couch and asked Aly a simple question that led to thread of questions:

1. What is your favorite smell?  At first she sat there stunned both by the nature of the question and a wonderment as to the out-of-nowhere reason behind it.  But I tilted my head and asked her again.  She gave me an answer that I wouldn't have know if I hadn't of asked point-blank.  This made me more curious...
2. What is your favorite sight?
3. What is your favorite taste? (I was working my way through the senses)
4. What is your favorite feeling with your fingers?
5. What is your favorite sound?  (a horse chewing grass)

This led to another line of questions just off the "5 senses" path...

6. What is your favorite thing to hear said to you?  (she said "good job, Aly")
7. What is your favorite name to be called?  (she said Grace)
8. What is your favorite memory?
9. What is your favorite thing you've ever written?
10. What is your favorite word or phrase?
11. What is your favorite thing we do as a family?

This led me to something called "word association" where I say a word and she says the first word that comes to her mind related to what I said.  This is astounding and a great way to get to know your child's unedited thoughts without them knowing you were peeling back there facade.

12. Fear
13. Nature
14. Church
15. Family
16. Ice Cream
17. Sisters
18. God
19. School
20. Future

We went on and on...from one topic to the next, one word to the next...and out of nothing we created a moment that was precious.

If you're ever looking for something simple to do with your child...sometimes it's so obvious that you miss it.  Questions.  When they're young, they love being interrogated and you gotta seize this opening while you still have the chance...'cause whether we like it our not, the window gets harder to open the older they get and the colder we get.

Sometimes I think our kids just want to know if we care about them and want to know what they think about stuff.

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Explaining Horse Castration to my Daughters...

Yesterday was a special day.

I mentioned last week that my iPhone autocorrected the word "daughter" into "laughter" and I felt that God was trying to tug me toward a translation that I deeply needed to make in my parenting.

It's amazing how serious life can make you as the soberness of life's needs press in like a pack of wolves.  Joy is devoured and the ability to relax into a moment with your children can be forced at best.  You're trying to sit with them and do their homework, or kick the ball in the front yard, or let them sit with you on the lawnmower, or push them on the tire swing, or concentrate on them exclusively as they share their day's school stories...but something just keeps nagging you and pestering you away from that beautiful moment hanging there like a drop of mercury.  Something just keeps reminding you that more pressing things need your attention or more important matters are waiting for your intervention.  Of course, it's hogwash, but your lizard brain keeps banging that gong.

I mention that propensity toward seriousness to set the context for the special day I had yesterday with my daughters on a daddy/daughter night in the bustling town of Lowell.

On our way to Lowell, a friend of mine, Doug Olin, had texted me that he had two yearling Clydesdale colts he had just purchased the week before and that we should stop by and check them out.  The girls were geeked about this...the farm life is enchanting to them and new horses couldn't be a more charming ingredient in that enchantment.

We pulled up to the horse barn and as we walked in to the see the horses in the stables, I noticed blood running down their back legs profusely which, needless to say, was quite alarming to my daughters.  Doug sauntered into the barn, the cowboy he is, and while chuckling mentioned that these stallions lost their manhood just hours before and so they were a little "bloody".

What perfect timing!  There's nothing like bringing your daughters to a horse barn and being forced to explain to them what castration is and why it's necessary.  They kept asking, "What did they cut off?"  I didn't know what word to use.  Part of me wanted to use more medical terms so as to keep them thoroughly confused.  "Testicles, honey, testicles."  "What are those, dad?"  "Well, those are the horses private parts."  "Well, how will they go to the bathroom then?"  "Well they don't cut all of the private parts off, just a part of them."  "Which part?"  "The part that holds the horses gonads."  "What are the gonads, dad?"  "Well...hmmm...let me see...ummm..."  I knew the term that would understand and I just cringed to say it.  "Their balls, baby.  Do you know what I'm talking about now?"  At that point, they stopped asking questions and just cringed with deep furrowed brows and painful expressions of compassion.  Thanks, Doug, for inviting us over to see your horses, only next time could you invite us on a day when I don't have to explain the anatomy of the common male and the purpose of why someone would have to lop them off.  I'd appreciate that.  Hahaha.

We moved from there to Mynt Fusion and shared a "Fried Ice Cream" together.  We dug our spoons into the heavenly dessert and played tick-tack-toe on the table covered with white butcher paper.  The game quickly progressed to hangman and we laughed as we tried to guess each others crazy ideas.  I love butcher paper and crayons at restaurants...whoever came up with that idea was in the zone that day, along with the person who came up with the idea to throw your peanut shells on the floor in Logan's Roadhouse.  Climbing into a kids mind and making that dream happen usually leads to a better life.

We parked in a downtown parking spot and walked the train tracks behind King Milling.  We looked for fish in the river and explored the river like Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer.  They asked a lot about trains and why there aren't as many of them these days as there were in the "olden" days.  I tried to explain that to them as we walked hand in hand down the vacant tracks.  Antiquity.  Pure and pungent antiquity.

We circled around and I bought them each a beef stick at the Shell station and as we walked down the sidewalk toward our parked car, we noticed the cars stopping in the middle of the downtown area near Flat River Grill.  A mother duck was leading her seven new born ducklings across the street.  It was like a tiny parade.  The funny thing was watching the little ones trying to climb the curb.  They would jump over and over again stumbling back to the bottom until the last one finally eked his fluffy body over the cusp.  As they made their way to the rivers edge, they popped into the water one by one, and pumped their little legs to keep up with mama as she led them across of the surface of the calm rivers current.

We came home, gathered together, and sat on the couch to watch the final 5 in American Idol compete. Curled up on the couch, we let them stay up till 10:30pm and told them they could sleep in in the morning.  You only live once, right?

You just never know how your day is going to transpire, do you?  The important thing is that you're right there when it does.  I've missed a lot of moments over my life because of what's going on up there between my ears.  I don't want seriousness to crowd out the joy of simple moments of beauty.

This was a good castration aside.  I take that back...that was the best part!