Saturday, December 16, 2006

Wind Storm 2006

Then God said to Jonah, "What right do you have to get angry about this shade tree?" Jonah said, "Plenty of right. It's made me angry enough to die!" (Jonah 4:9 - The Message)

Angry enough to die? No, but it kinda put a damper on the weekend.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Amazing... Grace-less

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like... Ted Haggard.

That great hymn is likely one of the best known hymns in the world. Even movies and TV portray religious people singing this song when they show a "church" scene.

It's interesting to me how quick we "wretches" are to condemn when others fall into sin. While the media is having its hey-day with Ted Haggard and his sin, Christians are having their own shark fest with him too. We seem to forget the Apostle Paul's words after his long list of sins that prevent people from inheriting the Kingdom of God - "...and such were some of you."

This past weekend, my church began a series in the book of Jonah. We all remember him as the guy who tried to run from God. Few of us remember why. Chapter 4 gives us the answer. Jonah knew that God was compassionate, full of mercy and grace, and would forgive the Ninevites if they repented. They did, and He did. Jonah had a grace-less heart.

One of my favorite scenes in "Walk the Line" is when Johnny Cash is going to sing in prison and his agent doesn't want him too. His agent says "There are a lot of Christians who support your music and they don't like the idea of you going into the prisons." Cash's response is perfect... "Well then, maybe they're not Christians."

Please understand, I believe that sin is ugly. I believe that as pure worship rises to God as sweet smelling incense, the stench of sin rises to Him like the smell of a dead animal rotting under your house. It is especially tragic when one who is preaching against specific areas of sin is secretly practicing those very sins.

However, grace is the theme of the church. It's the song we sing. It's the one of the few things we have to offer the world (along with the very presence of God living through us). I wonder... will those watching Christians attack pastor Haggard will see grace? Would they see grace in how we treat the homosexual community Haggard preached against, yet was alledgedly enmeshed in?

It seems to me that what they need to see is sorrow over the destructiveness of sin; and prayer for all those who will pay for the sinful choices.

If the words of the song are true, then we have no choice but to extend that same grace to others. After all, our namesake - the One we follow does. And boy, am I glad.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Halloween Flashback

Back in the day, my friends and I would stay up late and watch Saturday Night Live (back when it was actually funny!). After SNL (so, like at 1am) was SCTV; a Canadian comedy show that introduced us to Great White North with Bob & Doug McKenzie (Dave Thomas and Rick Moranis). The show also gave us our first glimpses of John Candy, Martin Short, Eugene Levy, Harold Ramis, and other really funny people.

One of my favorites was Joe Flaherty and John Candy in Count Floyd's Monster Chiller Horror Theatre. Here's a sample... Dr. Tongue's 3D House of... Pancakes. Scarey!!!

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Blog Blots

A friend of mine came into my office today; laughing and shaking his head. I asked him what was up, and he said that he had been reading some blogs and had discovered the service they provide to our society.

I, of course, asked him to enlighten me. He then told me that blog posts and the comments they generate serve as a pre-screening for people who are in serious need of psycho-therapy.

His belief was that most of the people who post and comment have absolutely no idea what they are talking about.

What does this say about me?

Wanna comment?

Monday, September 18, 2006

The Lonliest Place on Earth?

I work weekends. Have for about 25 years. I work at a church. And I don't get out much. I mean, I don't have the opportunity to get out and see what's going on at other churches very often. When I have a weekend off, I like to visit other churches. Not just to check out what other churches are doing, but to be led into worship - rather than being the worship leader.

In the past couple years, I've faced a very disturbing question. If I didn't work for a church, would I go to church? The question really scares me, because when I visit churches I tend to leave very discouraged. Most times, I'm afraid that I wouldn't be able to find a church that would compel me to keep coming back.

There are basically 3 things I'm looking for in church. Maybe there are more, but I find that if these 3 are there, I leave feeling like I'd like to go back. The big 3 for me are Community - Authenticity - and did I meet with God? If the first two aren't there, it makes it hard for me to discern the 3rd.

I visited a couple other churches this weekend. Both were relatively new, growing churches in the Portland area. For the most part, the focus of this post will be just one of those churches. It's the cool place to go right now. Lots of young families go there. There's not a great way to say this, and I don't really mean for it to be critical, but it was an example of why I fear that I wouldn't go to church if I didn't work there.

Briefly, my experience was this - I walked in, looking for all the world like a lost puppy. I walked past the man at the door, hoping for a "good morning" and a program that would help me know what to expect. I got neither. I found my way into the worship center and sat down. For nearly 15 minutes, I sat alone - watching other people talk to each other. It appeared that there was some kind of community going on here - I just wasn't invited to be a part of it. No one talked to me. As the service started, there were lots of inside jokes and inside illustrations the pastor mostly talked about his family and his staff (oh, wait... those were the same). Again, many of the people there seemed to be connected, but I remained a stranger.

Authenticity is a very hard thing to judge. All I will say here is that it "felt" pretty plastic to me.

Lastly, did I meet with God? We sang familiar songs. The band was decent. The sermon was okay (not great, but no heresy). But the service was absent of any sense of transcendence for me. Not once did I feel a connection with God.

No connection with people. No connection with God. Shoulda stayed home. You see why I'm afraid of that question? Not only does it scare me that I wouldn't attend church if I didn't work at one, it also scares me because every week there are people who wander into the church I work at. Is their experience similar to mine? Oh God, I hope not.

If you're a person who calls Village your home, please - please - please go out of your way to include people. Be aware of those around you who may not be feeling a part of the community. Don't let church be a lonely place. Don't be plastic. Be real, in your conversations and in your worship. And together, let's seek after an encounter with God. Please don't sit passively watching the show. Engage with God. Come to the Table and commune with Him. Use your gifts to minister those around you. Be the church.

If, God forbid, you've visited my church and were alone - I'm sorry. I hope you've found a worshiping community that has enfolded you. If not, maybe you'd give us another shot at it.

One more thing. I visited another church yesterday. A church that gave me hope. I left saying to myself - "I could go there".

Monday, August 07, 2006

Leaky Roof... an Addendum

I'd like to comment on something I find really cool about the previous post. I've done a lot of teaching on worship over the past 20+ years. One of the points I have made has to do with the Biblical understanding of the word "praise".

Years ago, Hebrew professor Dr. Ron Allen taught me something that's found in his book "Praise: A Matter of Life and Breath". To teach the point he made, I've told a story... a parable - if you will.

There was a man (I usually tell the story as if it happened to me) who had a leaky roof. It was really bad. Every night when it rained, he wondered where the water would come in to his house that night.

One day, a friend found out that his roof was leaking. He came over to help patch the roof and found that the roof was beyond repair, and would need to be replaced. But the man didn't have enough money to pay for a new roof. This friend said, "let me see what I can do."

A few days later, the friend showed up with tools, materials, and workers to put a new roof on the house. They worked hard; and in a week's time, they had a new roof on the house.

Now, as you can imagine, the man with the leaky roof is overwhelmed with gratitude for this act of kindness. He didn't ask them to do it; he didn't even tell them I needed it; but they came and gave and worked because they loved him.

In our culture, when it was all finished, I would shake their hands and say "thank you". However, if I lived in Hebrew culture during Bible times, I wouldn't say that. You see, the concept of "thank you" didn't exist. Instead, my response would be to shake their hand and say to them "I will tell your name." And then I would go around the community and brag on the kindness of those who had helped me. I might say "Do you know Brad?... You don't? Well, let me tell you about him. See he heard that my roof was leaking and he talked with Aser and they rounded up some guys and materials..." and I proceed to tell the story.

Biblical praise is the "I will tell your name." It's bragging on God for who He is and what He's done, and what He will do in the future.

So, I just think it's pretty amazing that after 20 years of using that illustration, I'm now living it.

Thanks God... I'm gonna tell your name.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Getting My Feet Washed... On My Roof

A couple weeks ago, we studied John 13. That's the story of when Jesus washes the disciple's feet. As you may remember - Jesus was about to die; He was in the "upper room" with His disciple's for the "last supper"; and in an act of profound servanthood, He washes the dirt (dust, donkey doo, and cow crap) off of their feet. The disciples were humiliated at being served by their Lord, but Jesus said "...unless I wash you, you have no part with me". Jesus ends the story by telling the disciples that they should do the same for each other.

Some churches have even initiated foot-washing services in an attempt to obey this command. However, as we looked at the story, we discovered that the message was really about serving each other, not about washing feet. We talked about several different ways we can serve each other.

We were challenged to consider a ministry of...
  • Presence - Just being there
  • Going to marginal places - Nursing homes, Homeless shelters, etc.
  • Availability - Willingness to be interrupted in our busy schedules
  • Surrender - Giving up rights, money, things
  • Anonymity - Doing, without expecting acknowledgement
  • Guarding - Protecting each other's reputations
  • Receiving - Yes, receiving help from others can be a form of service
Well, this past week, I got my feet washed up on my roof. A group of guys from my church knew that my roof was in disrepair. They also knew that I did not have the funds to pay for a new roof. So, a couple of them decided to get a crew together and take care of it. They took care of materials, labor, food for the crew, everything.

When I was first approached, I really struggled with it. It was humbling to be in a position to receive help from others. In fact I took a couple weeks to think about it before I said "okay". When I finally did respond, I said "my pride says 'no', but my theology says 'yes'". See, I was like Peter in the foot-washing story. Peter said to Jesus "No, Lord! You'll never wash my feet!" He was too proud. So was I.

But my pride nearly kept me from getting a huge blessing. Of course, the roof was a huge blessing. But even better than that, was the sense of community and camaraderie that we all got to experience. I got to hear guy's stories about how they came to faith in Jesus. I got to work along side some 13 year olds who did a man's share of work each day, and came back for more the next day. I got to "know" some guys that were just faces before. Now I have relationship with them. Huge.

There's a lot of talk these days about how a big church can't have community. I just want to say that's bunk. Maybe it takes more intentionality. Maybe it's harder to pull off. But Brad, Aser, Chris, Cyrus, Ross, Ross Jr., Scott, Bobby, Erik, Richard, Seth, JR, Bob, Buddy, Ted, Kelly, James, Wayne, Dave, David, Ken, Eric, Mike, Alex, Paul, Rob, Ron, Kimberly, Shirley, Chick, Cheryl, Sarah, Michelle, Emily, and Elyse all showed me that community does still exist. The old fashioned "barn-raising" is still possible.

At the very end of the story of the foot-washing is this statement "I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you. How true it is that a servant is not greater than the master. Nor are messengers more important than the one who sends them. You know these things—now do them! That is the path of blessing." If that statement is true (and I believe it is) then not only have I been blessed by this roof project, but all of you who served will be too. God's cool that way, huh?

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Reflections on a Wedding...

My first post on this blog was right after the engagement of my daughter. This past weekend, she was married. As the father of the bride, I’ve given myself a couple days to reflect on this new stage of life (as much for me as for her) and try to process some of the emotions I’ve been experiencing.

Things that surprised me…

Father of the Bride - I have either sung or officiated at about 350 weddings (in fact, I think I’ve only “attended” about 3 or 4 in my life.) So, I’m pretty familiar with how they are supposed to run. I know where people are supposed to stand or sit, what they are supposed to say, and nearly every other minute detail of how things should go. I was surprised with how much I didn’t know about this wedding. I became the stereotypical father of the bride who only knows he is to take that long walk down the aisle and proclaim (or quiver) “…her mother and I.”

Worship - Most weddings are the biggest day of a bride’s life. It is a day she has dreamed of since childhood, and we all encourage the fairy tale aspect of a wedding. One local wedding chapel advertises on its website “…well Cinderella, you’ve found your price charming! Now all you need is the perfect ballroom…”

I’ve been in other ceremonies where the couple’s desire was for the event to be one of worship. And so, they have a worship band lead the congregation in singing. They have the elements many would associate with worship. And, I believe, God honors their intent.

However, in this wedding, there was no “congregational singing”, no opportunity for response. Katy & Renjy stated in their program that all the attention on them makes them extremely uncomfortable and that they did not want to do anything that would steal any of God’s glory. In other words, this event was to be all about God. The music, the message (one of the best I’ve ever heard), and every element of the ceremony pointed to God, His supremacy, and His goodness. Not even a single love song to each other.

What surprised me was that more than any wedding I’ve ever been to (and more than most church services) worship happened. Looking back, I say “of course, that’s what we wanted”… but it still surprised me – caught me off guard, in a wonderful way.

No Tears, Just Joy - For the past several years, whenever I have seen the bride walk down the aisle, I’ve gotten choked up anticipating the day when I would walk Katy the aisle. I pretty much knew I would be a mess when the time came. However, when the moment came, I was so caught up in worship – so overwhelmed with a profound sense of God’s goodness and His pleasure with this event, that I could do nothing but join that “celebration dance” and escort my daughter down that aisle with greater joy than I can recall in years… perhaps since that precious daughter was born.

A bit of advice on how to marry a daughter…

I realize that most of you don’t know my new son-in-law. Renjy is an amazing addition to our family. When they became engaged, many of my daughter’s girlfriends said “wow, he’s hot!” My wife’s friends all talked about the beautiful children they would have one day. There was no shortage of young women at this wedding looking mighty forlorn, wishing it was they who were walking down the aisle with Renjy. And, no shortage of young men wishing it was they who were waiting at the front of the church for Katy. I have been the envy of many a father with a marriageable daughter. Many of them have asked me “how did you get so lucky to get Renjy as a son-in-law?”

Here’s what I know… from the day she was born, we began praying for who Katy’s spouse would be. Praying that he would be a devoted follower of Jesus. Praying that his parents would model for him what a godly marriage relationship looks like. Praying for his purity in relationships, and that he would save himself for Katy.

We also taught Katy from a very early age that beauty, true beauty, comes from the inside, not from the outside. Not from dressing a certain way, or having a lot of makeup on. True beauty would come from her Spirit-driven compassion for people, and from the light of Christ shining out of her. Her name means “pure” and we were convinced that a character of purity would be an attractive light others. And we prayed that God would cause her to live out that purity. She has done that. And in his own words, that character is what drew Renjy to Katy.

Raise them to love and follow God. And pray for them everyday. Simple. Ha! Not simple at all. It’s a lot of hard work. But sitting back, reflecting on this day, it was worth it.

Thanks God, for pouring out Your blessings on us.


Monday, June 05, 2006

A Good Place To Be...

Several years ago I found myself discouraged in ministry and questioning whether I should hang in where I was serving, go find another ministry to serve in, or leave it entirely and go back to being a tile setter (my previous trade).

I pretty quickly ruled out setting tile, as I still had a strong sense of God’s call on my life and a gifting for leading worship. But I decided that I would look for another church to go to. I had become convinced that I had to go somewhere else to find the church I was looking for.

Over the course of about 2 years God (I’m convinced it was God, and not just coincidence) closed door after door. One of the last ones I pursued was a “done deal” in everyone’s mind. It was a perfect fit, and we would be moving to the other side of the country. Then at the 11th hour, God again closed the door. I knew with certainty that He wanted me to stay, but I was not very happy about it. I had become resigned to the fact that I may never find the church I was looking for.

Then an amazing thing happened. God began to change me, and He began to change us. Slowly, but surely, I began to see glimpses of that church I was looking for… right here! A church committed to being something more than a gathering of white people, pretending to be perfect, going through the motions of “church”.

This weekend was a continuation of that discovery. This weekend we looked at the conversation between Jesus, the shaming Pharisees, and a woman caught in adultery. Jesus masterfully calls them on their “shame game”, extends grace and forgiveness to the woman, and all the while maintains a strong stance on purity “…now go, and quit sinning.”

After spending some time in John 8, we responded in worship by acknowledging that all of us have “junk” (the Bible calls it sin) and that we’d be a whole lot better off if we’d just admit it (the Bible calls that confession) and allow the cross to do what it was intended to. A friend of mine says that the church ought to be more like an AA meeting “Hi, I’m Dean, I’m a sinner”… “Hi Dean.” I think he’s right.

We ended the service with a testimony by one of our staff and their spouse. In it, they “came clean” on a pretty big sin committed years ago. They talked about how shame had kept them hostage for years. Afterwards, people embraced this couple, affirmed their love for them, and many began to seek freedom from their own shame. I also know that in many churches, perhaps most, this person would have been ostracized and removed from any kind of ministry.

As I led and observed authentic, deep worship happening, and saw multiple ethnicities coming up to extend grace to this couple, I thought to myself “man, I’m glad I stayed”. Then I offered up a simple prayer “thank you, Lord for closed doors… this is a good place to be.”


Monday, May 15, 2006

My First American Idol

I watched my very first episode of American Idol last week. I'm probably one of the only people in the country that's never seen it, so I was asking questions along the way about how this whole thing works. My friends graciously guided me along.

It was "Elvis" week on Idol. So, all of the contestants sang old Elvis songs. Here's my take on the 4 contestants I heard.

Taylor Hicks (unfortunate name, I think) did a nice job with "Jailhouse Rock". He had a bluesy, New Orleans quality to his voice. I bet he'd sound good doing anything by Michael McDonald.

Katherine McPhee did a peppy, fun version of "Hound Dog" with "Shake, Rattle, and Roll". She reminded me of that chick in "Walk the Line" - lots of bubble, okay voice. Someone mentioned she can't dance, and forgot the words.

Chris Daughtry sang something I can't remember and looked into the camera like he was trying to pick me up. Felt creepy. And what's the deal with carrying around the microphone stand? Dude... get a guitar or somethin'! His voice was pretty good though.

Elliot Yamin sang something (again, I don't remember what) looking for all the world like Mr. Tumnis in the Chronicles of Narnia, only with really bad teeth (ugh!) Worst of all, he has this machine-gun vibrato that really grates on me. I mean, it's toltally out of control! I'll take the Cowardly Lion from "The Wizard of Oz" over this guy.

And in the end, I learn that I have to wait till the next night to find out how the voiting went. Well, the next night floored me! America likes Machine-gun Tumnis and votes the guy who can sing off!? We live in a weird world.

Moral of the story? Don't carry your mic-stand around. People don't like it.

Accidental Busynessman

Okay, I know… it’s been a while. Too long. But I've been really busy. It’s funny to me that my last post was about the “big hill” of Easter. I didn’t know it then, but right after that – the really steep switchbacks would start. I think (knock on wood) that the terrain is now going to level out for a bit.

The week after Easter I had a little “procedure” to correct an umbilical hernia (who ever heard of that? – crazy!) It was a day-surgery, so I thought I’d be back in the groove in a day, right? Wrong. Took about a week to feel that my bowels weren’t going to fall out of my belly. (sorry, that’s sick – I know)

The week after that, I traveled to Atlanta for a conference on how to have a Multi-Ethnic church. Very good stuff. I think I was most moved by a message by Mark DeYmaz of Mosaic Church in Littlerock. He gave a great message on the Biblical mandate for Multi-Ethnic church. So much more than Rodney King’s “why can’t we just get along.” I was really honored to be there with an Indian, a Korean, an El Salvadorian, and a Chinese… all from our leadership team at our church. We’ve got a long way to go, but at least we’re going the right direction.

The next week I was in Klemtu, BC. Klemtu is on a small island (10 miles by 15 miles) off the BC coast. There is a First Nations fishing village there that we’ve been working with for about 5 years. I was up there to do a seminar on building better relationships. Klemtu is a very isolated, hard place. There are about 350 people who live there. Every time I go, I leave with a heavy feeling. It’s not a hopeless feeling (I’m confident of our hope in Jesus) but it is a pretty helpless feeling. Pray for them if you’re given to that sort of thing.

I returned from Klemtu, slept one night in my own bed, and then headed out to the Oregon coast for a planning retreat with the pastors of our church. It was a good time, and we got a lot of good work done.

In that past couple days, many people have asked “how are ya?” My response started sounding too familiar… “busy… too busy” I would say. Something felt funny to me as I said that. Then, sitting in the worship service listening to the sermon, the words left the pulpit and headed out over the congregation like a freshly launched missile looking for it’s target… beep, beep, beep, target found! I didn’t even see it coming. Out of nowhere (the sermon wasn’t even about being busy) I heard “Jesus was always intentional, and He was never in a hurry.” Wham! Got me.

I hear a lot of people say they're really busy. I’m sure they are too. Most of us are. And here in America, it’s a badge we wear proudly. It gives us status. The more busy we are, the more important we must be. Or maybe people will think we’re really earning our keep. Or maybe they’ll feel sorry for us. Probably not. More likely, they’ll feel guilty and create more busy-ness for themselves.

I know that there are seasons of life that require more from us, like this past month for me. But that statement really got me thinking. In my busy-ness, am I just in a hurry? Do I like the busy-ness because it makes me feel like I’m doing a good job? Or am I being intentional with my time. Making the most of every opportunity, as the Apostle Paul says.

I think I’m going to try something. I think I’m going to try not telling people I’m busy. Maybe I can do something to break that crazy cycle in my circle of influence.

That's all for now... gotta run (just kidding)

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Big Hill... Better than Disneyland

Years ago, we lived in a house that had 14 steps up to the front door. One Halloween a tiny little guy dressed as some in-vogue super-hero made the long climb up the stairs while my wife held the door open and waited for his magic words that would deliver candy. "Whew... Big hill" was what came out. Ever since, "Whew... Big hill" has become the code phrase in our home for "That was a long, hard day."

In my job, there are two times a year that are crazy-busy big hills. Christmas and Easter. Today ended the second of those for me. This past week was a grueling big hill that had most days starting at 4am and ending at about 11pm. By all rights, I should be feeling burnt out. My body and my brain are tired. But I feel a deep sense of gratification tonight.

This week, we ran a worship experience we call a Christ Centered Labyrinth. It is a multi-sensory, multi-media encounter with God that left most people only able to whisper "wow" as they left. We held a Good Friday service where we unashamedly grieved the death of Jesus, but not through "Easter eyes". People allowed the gravity and injustice of the crucifixion to wreck their evening and their weekend. At the end, the incense rose up through the gnarled cross hung in the center of the room and we moved through a "virtual" Stations of the Cross and the 7 last words of Jesus, many wept uncontrollably. Today, we celebrated that Jesus is no longer dead; that he didn't stay in the grave, but rose to secure life for all who would follow him. What a journey.

Last year I had a revelation... an epiphany. After hosting the labyrinth all day, I figured out what I love about this week. I'm a worship leader. And at its core, that has nothing to do with music - and everything to do with connecting people with God. That's what I get to do during Holy Week. Help connect people with God. What a privilege.

One woman came out of the labyrinth crying and struggling to find words to express her feelings. After a few minutes she said, "that was better than Disneyland." Yep, it is. Thanks to all who helped pull off this week. Thanks to all who came to experience it. Thanks God, for showing up. You're a lot better than Disneyland.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Hindu Woman Describes a Worship Leader

An elderly hindu couple came to church today with a friend. Because of the language barrier, there was much they did not understand. But my friend told me afterwards that they were very moved by the worship time after the sermon. Speaking of the worship leader, the hindu woman said that "... his spirit became one with the Divine Spirit."

Humbled, and honored.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Bono - fied

I have a lot of friends who worship Bono. Really kinda bugs me. Bugs me like Amy Grant worship did in the 80's. Bugs me like Beatles worship bugged my father-in-law in the 60's. So many Christians look for any hint of spirituality in their heroes so they can justify worshiping them. Stupid. You like their music? Great. Listen to their music. But quit trying to convince me that they are the next Billy Graham.

Anyway, Bono's a great musician, hugely popular, and that gives him a platform. My opinion is that most famous people should shut up and sing, or shut up and act, or maybe just shut up. Too many times they go on and on about stuff they know nothing about, and because they sing good - people listen, and follow.

So, a friend sent me this link to a speach Bono did at a prayer breakfast at the Whitehouse. I thought... "O great, here we go again." Wow, was I wrong.

This is a great speach. I don't know who wrote it (probably not Bono) or if he even said everything that's in print here, but it doesn't matter. This blog entry isn't really about Bono. It's about being Christ in the world, and these are powerful words about that. Hope it gets you thinking like it did me.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

“Christians are S’posed to go to Church…”

This weekend I tried something different in worship. Usually one of the professional “clergy” does the Call to Worship, or Invocation (2 sides of a coin that invites the people and God to come together). These generally range from some really nice ones from Scripture, to some pretty informal ones that are more like… “hey, we’re here to worship and we’re gettin’ started”.

But this weekend, I decided “what the heck, we’re a whole room full of priests (1 Peter 2:9) – why don’t we have someone from the community pray the invocation. Now, this can be a bit scary if no one steps up – but thankfully, in each service, someone did. And it was really, really good. The prayers were really beautiful, unrehearsed cries for God to come and meet with us, and for us to be changed in His presence. And, I think for the most part, God really answered those prayers.

In one of the services, a young woman prayed. Her prayer was so honest, and so beautiful, and so… sacred. It was the prayer of a priest. In her honesty, she said “God, I don’t really know why I’m here tonight.” And later… “but please come here and meet with us tonight, cuz we really need you.” But in between those statements, right after the “…I don’t know why I’m here tonight.” She said “… I just know Christians are supposed to go to church.”

“Christians are supposed to go to church.” Really? I just finished a book by Eddie Gibbs on the Emerging Church. It’s a sociological study of emerging churches around the world and what we can learn from them. In it he talks about one church that made t-shirts for their members. On the front of the shirt it said “Don’t Go To Church”. On the back it said “Be The Church”. I was thinking about this after “church” on Saturday night. I’d love for us to have shirts like that. But even more, I’d love for us to put that into practice.

Many of the people who come to the Saturday night service are younger people who really identify with a lot of the emergent church language. So, when I quote Gibbs about being the church rather than just going, they are all over that like stink on a pig (I have a cowboy friend who says that). There is a growing understanding that the church must be missional, must be Christ in the community, in the world. I’m all over that like… well you know. One of my favorite (and most convicting) Scriptures is Isaiah 58 where God talks about the kind of fast he desires. It’s not a fast from food, but rather a fast from selfishness where we take care of the poor and the hungry, the orphan and the widow. If we want to please God, that kind of living is not an option. It is a mandate for the church (James hits this in his book in the New Testament too)

However, sometimes we (dang… I’m gonna step on toes here) get excited about “being the Church” out there, and forget that “being the Church” also means when we’re gathered. In fact, while the word “Church” carries a meaning of “called out ones”, its main meaning is “the gathered ones”. So, what does it mean to “be the Church” when we’re gathered? This is already getting long, so let’s let the commenting cover some of what it might involve. But I can tell you that one of the things it ISN’T. It isn’t sitting passively, watching the paid guys do “church”. All who gather for the worship service (or work) must come ready to do the work of the service. Granted, for many parts of the service, permission and freedom must be given by the paid guys so that the people can do it, but way too often I see the same devout indifference that I grew up with in my childhood tradition.

So here’s what I really wanted to say… I think Christians are supposed to be church, not just go to church. I also think that there is action involved in being the church. So, I guess I would say that not only are we to be the church, but we’re to do church too. I wonder what would happen if everyone who came to church put their best effort into being and doing church. What does that look like? Not sure… I’ve never seen it. Shall we try it?

And, by the way, Heather… I think you were being and doing church when you led us all in that wonderful invocation on Saturday. Thanks.


Friday, March 03, 2006

Norman & His Friends

Last night I went to see my son in “The Boys Next Door” – a play by Tom Griffin about a group home of mentally handicapped adult men.


I know you’d expect that response from a proud dad – but for most of the play I forgot that he was my son. I was captivated by this disturbing, yet tender story of marginalized people we’d rather not know about, yet live in all of our communities.

Norman, Lucien, Arnold, Barry, Sheila, & Clara were characters in the play with varying degrees of mental challenge that spoke truth into the lives of those watching.

I was reminded of a time that we lived next to a group home. Many times when friends came over, jokes were made about the “hockey team” living next door. This was supposed to be a funny reference to the helmets they wore when riding the bus to their “jobs” at the center.

I was reminded that we are pretty quick to make fun of things that make us uncomfortable. Laughing at those things is somehow supposed to make us feel better about ourselves.

On my flight home (the play was in LA, I live in Portland), I sat across from a mentally handicapped woman. Isn’t it interesting that I would have that as my first “public” experience after seeing this show. I watched people avoid her. I watched her trying to navigate in a world that so often doesn’t make sense. And while people were generally helpful, they became frustrated pretty quickly too.

Several months ago, I had the incredible honor of baptizing a friend of mine. Paul is a 14 year old boy with Downs Syndrome. He loves Jesus and understood His command to be baptized, so we did it. In his interview, he talked about his love for Jesus and for people. He told me that he prays for people. I asked him what kinds of things he prays for. He said that he prays that he can understand them. How odd. Here we were in a room full of “normal” people, and Paul (who we struggled to understand) nails us by letting us see that he has a better grasp of the faith than most of us… and he prays for us. Incredible.

Last night, the “boys next door” gave me a sobering reminder that what we all think of as “normal” is nothing but a pretty thin façade. And none of us… none of us, is further than an accidental fall, an unexplained illness, or some quirky gene mix-up away from "abnormal" ourselves.

Thank you Norman, Lucien, Arnold, Barry, Sheila, & Clara for helping me see this in a fresh way. And thank you, Andy, for letting Norman speak through you.

In gratitude,

A proud dad


Friday, February 10, 2006

A Wise Man Once Said...

Visited the Gandhi ashram the other day. There was a quote on on the wall in the ashram. “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” This really got me thinking about how often we distort the truth of what Jesus tought. How much does it look like what he intended? Sadly, in America, I fear there is often little resemblance. Very convicting, I’m afraid.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

This Place is a Zoo!

Monkeys and Camels and Cows... OH MY!!!

Just a few of the critters on and around the compound I was teaching at today.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Monday, January 23, 2006

Secret Sodom

I love the internet. How cool is it that within seconds we can find out information on any topic we want. We can have “real time” conversations with people in far away places… for free! Music, any music you want, is a click away. And many have found their soul-mate through online introductions.

But the internet can also be a sin magnet. A tempting treasure of trash that can suck you in like a black hole. An innocent search on any given topic can quickly lead you to a link to somewhere you had no intention of going to, but find it hard to leave (kinda like the Hotel California.) A private conversation in a chat room, or on MySpace can give one a sense of anonymity that has them speaking in ways they would never speak to those they respect. Music, movies, software… anything that can be digitally stored and transferred, can turn an upstanding citizen into a felon with a few clicks (and oh, how we rationalize!!)

I was reading recently about Abraham and Lot, and their little visit to Sodom and Gomorrah. It is amazing how openly decadent this place was. No shame. And how willing Lot was to live in the middle of that. Ah, yes, but he was able to live “in” that culture and yet not be “of” it. Right, until he offered his daughters as a sex bribe to the men who came to “know” (in the biblical sense) his two male guests, who were angels. Lot, you horrible sinful man! What in the world were you thinking? How could you… oops, something about a pot calling a kettle names comes to mind here.

Integrity is a tough thing. It really means that what you see is what you get. If I appear to be a person who doesn’t talk a certain way, or look at stuff I know I shouldn’t, or one who would never dream of stealing… then, that’s really who I am, even if no one's watching. But the internet has a way of luring me into believing “no one will ever know”. And they may not… but if a tree falls in the forest, and no one is there to hear it – well, you get the point.

I still love the internet. And, if you’re reading this, chances are you do too. All I’m calling for is some integrity in a world that seems to cherish its “secret” sins. Wanna try something really gutsy? Go download this little app that lets you pick a trusted accountability partner and emails him or her your internet history once a month. I dare ya.

Wouldn’t it be something if, when we get to heaven, and we stand at the Great White Throne, the supreme judge of our souls opens our internet history folder? Yikes! When I was a kid, my mom taught me a little song -“O be careful little eyes what you see…”

Silly song… yeah.


Sunday, January 15, 2006

Don't Push Your Convictions on Me!

I’ve been a part of church for a long time. I grew up in a little church that, although I didn’t realize it at the time, was pretty legalistic. By that, I mean that there were certain rules that were in place that only existed because “…Christians just don’t do that.” We joked about “we don’t dance, we don’t chew, and we don’t go with girls who do” but sadly, it seemed that was about the extent of it. Soon after I left home and left that church to attend another in my college town, I found out that many who preached those rules – didn’t really hold to the rules themselves.

Perhaps the biggest indicator of legalism in a place isn’t even the rules, it’s the inability to be transparent; the need to uphold an image of “christianity” that is only a façade. We wear smiles when we’re dying inside. I saw this a lot growing up. And, unfortunately, I learned to play along.

I’ve been a part of new churches that have started in reaction to the legalism of old churches. In their reaction, they allowed the pendulum to swing to a place of “freedom in Christ” that apparently forgot that the freedom we have in Him is a freedom from the chains of sin. We’re not slaves to it anymore!! A good friend of mine once said that we ask the wrong question. We’re always asking how close we can get to “the line” without really sinning. When what we really should be asking is how close can we get to Christ. And, what would it look like to really follow Him. To love as He loved, give as He gave.

Right now, I’m a part of a church that is real. And I love it. It’s an old church. I’m sure it’s had its days of legalism too. Probably none of us is immune to it. And, it’s not perfect. There’s a lot of messy stuff that goes on. But here’s the deal. We’re committed to be authentic, to not play church. You want to be anonymous, to blend in, to come and get your “church fix” and then go? Then this is probably not the place for you. But if you want to be a part of a community that is serious about learning what it means to be church, to discover what it means to walk in the way Jesus did, I think we might get there.

This weekend we… as a group, a community …made a covenant together. Not just individuals vowing something to God. There was that, but it was more. We talked about the responsibility we have to one another. About being a covenant community who are engaged in the world, but not engaged to it. And something about it felt very different from places I’ve been before. It wasn’t a list of rules, and it wasn’t reckless “freedom in Christ”. It was a commitment to pursue… together… the very heart of God. Wow.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes

I just received a new package of incense today. Incense! you say? Well, yes. Not the froofy stuff I burned back in the 70’s that has less than honorable associations, but frankincense. That’s right, the stuff the wise men brought to Jesus.

What for? For worship. I'm a worship pastor at a little church here in Beaverton and while the burning of incense is not a part of our tradition, we began using it about a year ago.

Which begs the question why? Why would a pastor (especially one in a tradition that has never used incense) begin using it? It’s easy to argue for its use from the Old Testament. Exodus chapter 30 gives us very specific instructions for its use and even includes the recipe! But in the New Testament, there are no instructions for its use (no condemnation either) and so many church traditions have turned away from the use of incense to enhance worship.

So, why? Is it because it smells so good? No. Well… I like the smell. Others hate it. But there in Exodus, it’s really clear that we’re not to use it as a perfume or because we like the smell. How ‘bout cuz the smoke looks really cool in the lights? Uh… that one’s probably not going to cut it either. Or this one… because cool churches are using ancient forms of worship, and we sure want to be cool. While that certainly is a trend, it’s a lousy reason to do anything we do in worship!

No, the reason is that it’s rich in symbolism. The worship of God has always been packed with symbolism. He is the great redeemer, and we are always “redeeming” things for use in worship. Our most famous one is an electric chair... I mean, a cross. This is just one that doesn’t take all that much work to redeem, because God’s people have been using incense in worship (at His instruction) for thousands of years (it sure takes a lot less work than a Christmas tree!!!)

How do we use it? At a certain point in our worship service, when we are responding to the Word of God spoken into our lives, we place the incense on the coal. I call attention to our prayers and our worship rising like the smoke of the incense; an offering of our lives going up to the Lord. I’ve also used it at the beginning of a service (Pentecost Sunday) to symbolize the Spirit of God coming into our midst. The incense also can bring a sense that this place is holy. It’s different. Set apart. Unlike Starbucks or Safeway. I think the incense heightens our awareness of that. We also leave with the smell of worship on us. Not a bad metaphor as we go back out into our community. Back to Starbucks, but with an awareness that we carry with us the smell of God. We are going into a world that needs to know Him.

One last thing. If you decide to use incense in a church that never has, you need to know about the protestant cough. The protestant cough is a phenomenon that occurs with some people who believe they are allergic to the incense. So, first of all, you need to know what’s in it. If you are buying pure frankincense, you’re buying pine pitch. You could, I suppose, use it to increase your grip on your baseball bat, or to help start your campfire. I’ve checked with some in the medical community who have assured me that it is highly unlikely that anyone could be allergic to this stuff. There have also been “tests” where no incense is put in the censer or thurible, but the cough persists! Well, at any rate, you should know that some will hate it and cough and sputter. You’ll need to figure out how to deal with that… I’m still trying.


Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Few things compare...

Standing in a stream, drifting a fly on the top of the water... waiting... patience... WHAM! This one was on the Deschutes in October.

"Better to be out fishing, thinking about God - than to be in church, thinking about fishing." - a very spiritual unknown fisherman

Okay, okay... I'll do it!

After much prodding from my family and friends, I am finally breaking down and joining the blogging world. I think the thing that really pushed me into it was entering a new phase of life. This past year Becki and I entered into a chapter of life known as "the empty nest".

Last January, our oldest son Ben left for India. He's been there for a year now and is due to return (for a period) in February. Last August, our youngest son Andy left for college and a journey that will take him... well, who knows where. Last Wednesday, our daughter Katy (a beautiful rose between a couple of ... hmm, dandylions?) became engaged to a young man who will take her away from us. We love him, but she's not my little girl much longer.

And so begins a new chapter, or maybe a new book in a series. It's not being written by me. I'm just one of the characters. And you know what else? It doesn't feel empty... it feels full. I feel more alive than ever. And that's a cool surprise. I'm so excited to see where it leads. Hope you check back often to see where it goes.