Monday, March 31, 2008

Lord's Prayer

So if you have not seen this on another, or received it via email yet, it is a MUST WATCH. It is an adorable little girl singing the Lord's Prayer:

I Wonder If This Is How We Look To God?

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Homecomings, Treasures, and Community

In about 2 hours from now I will leave my house to travel over to Midway to pick up my family as they return from the Spring Break travels. I can not wait for their return. I miss them terribly when they are gone. My wife, is my best friend in the world, and I feel very disconnected as she is several states aways. My oldest daughter constantly challenges my creativity. My middle daughter is my Rock - Paper - Scissors opponent and I have felt quite a hole in my life missing out on a week of competition. The Boy is an adventure as he is discovering his individuality. So although in the midst of the absence of my family my friends have fed me supper and kept me company till the late hours of the evening, I feel like I am wandering aimlessly when they are not around.

So today is our homecoming! As they were gone, I have spent time deciding about what things we will NEED in Africa. My wonderful All Clad pan set, and Le Cruset Stoneware will have to come with us. Our Furniture, Televisions, and Tivos will probably stay behind. Some of the kids toys will make the trek, while others, will be left behind. After a short time the process certainly gets you thinking about treasures.

When we were on our vision trip in Swaziland with Hopechest the team was distributing NEW SHOES that a church back in the states had collected. Although, I was not at all involved with the people handing out the shoes I was present, and made an interesting observation. The children would BAG their old shoes as they came out of the little stick built hut where members of our team were handing out the shoes. These old shoes were worn out, and is desperate need of replacement, yet to the Swazi orphans, they were a treasure that needed to be protected and returned home.

All of this kind of meshed together in my brain this morning, as I was cleaning and preparing for the family to come home. In Revelation 21:4 Jesus promises all things are being made new. HE at the center of EVERYTHING become renewal. In the New Heavens and Earth, our final homecoming where all the community of God's People will be at rest all these treasures whether a stainless steal pan, or a worn out shoe will appear just a futile. In light of the true homecoming of being restored to the greatest treasure of all our aimless meandering, and useless hoarding will melt into the eternal community of life.

Repentance, I don't mean the silly telling God I want to behave better than I have in the past. True Repentance, the kind that is traitorous to our previous allegiances, treasures, and communities; calls us out celebrate that homecoming now. I am PRESENT in the NEW HEAVENS and EARTH with Christ when I am GATHERED in HIS COMMUNITY to RESTORE HIS TREASURES to the broken places of this old earth. I celebrate the peace of homecoming when I am working in community to break bondages, and proclaim life!

This is a resolution! I resolve to live in the REAL PRESENCE of the NEW KINGDOM, NOW by treasuring the broken, by restoring the lonely to community, and by working alongside Christ to bring to reality when all things are made new.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

God Quit

Mission USA worship leader Jed Brewer released a new album last Tuesday as a free download on his website. I have been listening to the album for a little over a week now. It is an incredible album and has been a real blessing to my spirit. I wanted to give you a few lyrical snippets to prove how worthy of your time this album is.

Women God and Rock N Roll -
Women God and Rock N Roll
My three top drugs of choice
I could not hold my liquor
and I almost lost my voice.
Women God and Rock N Roll
I still want all three but
I am terrified of anymore of
each has done to me!
God Quit
Told God Has purposiveness
For Every Man
I heard about destiny
I thought it was meant for me
Thought Plans Were Part of the Plan
Did God Quit
Or Do I Just Not
Get It?
The Easy Part Is Hard
If we were out to dinner
I'd let you get the bill
But when it comes down to my cancer
I'm not so sure I want to be healed!
I nothing I don't know it's killing me
Believe me yes I do
It's just somewhere deep
inside my heart
I can't believe it's killing you!

Have mercy on this sinner Lord
I fear the easy part is hard
I am Man
And You're God
Couldn't we be something more?

The last three tracks are so amazing, I still after a week have not completely processed them. I still catch moments in them that I had not heard previously and they bring me to tears again.

Blessed Are Those
It's the only time they hear
What is whispered in their ears
By a God who will be known
For Who he is...
When there is no other choice
Than the still and quiet voice
Who Says,
"I Love You But I'm Nothing
Like You Think"

I Am Not Your Enemy
I am not your enemy
Do you know how much
you mean to me
I'm your father and I Love you Boy
Would you just sit and talk to me!

Religion of My Youth
The religion of my youth
I have found out was a chain
Wrapped around my ankle tight
Shackled to a weight of shame
Cutting out a cancer always hurts
But dying for no reason is worse!

So I hope I have successfully sold you on an album that will cost you nothing in terms of dollars! It will cost you a lot emotionally!

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Follow Me and Fear Not

God has been very clear to us in our prayers through the Amazing revelation of his presence that He is calling our family to orphan work in Swaziland, on the southern tip of the African continent. I have obeyed God to in his command to "Follow Me" and we have been busily working to align ourselves with an organization to work with in that calling. Although, there is a lot to learn about each other from the organization we want to go with, we know that God is making roads and in a short while we will be ministering to the orphans of Swaziland.

I have not learned to trust God enough yet. "Fear Not" has eluded me for weeks. I have struggled, and fought with the looming fate of revealing this season of life to my boss. I have feared his reaction, since he is one of my best friends, and I did not want to disappoint him by moving on from serving as an employee in his companies, and yet we have known God's will revealed.

I told him today, fearing the worst, and God has prevailed and shown himself faithful once again. Where I feared anger and hurt, God has placed excitement and blessing. I wish I would have trusted God to "Fear Not" weeks ago and shared this amazing journey with my friend sooner.

I am so excited, and can not wait to see the many more movements of God as he leads us into this ministry! I can't wait till the day I make the post, "Swaziland Is Official" God has revealed his will, so pray for us as we wait for the cogs of humanity to catch up!

God Be Praised!!! The amazing power of resurrection!!!!

Friday, March 21, 2008

Heritage - Early Childhood

1 Score and 12 years ago my forefathers, well my parents to be exact, brought forth a great son, that's me. It was in Nebraska, on a military base, in post Vietnam 1970s. I have no memories of this, despite my Dune fantasies of being precognitive. I am told that our family were not church people at the time of my birth, but by my earliest remembrances I was a raised on pew, bathed in the baptistery, fed from a pot luck church kid. I have a great spiritual heritage. My grandfather, George Neal, was a vocational minister in the northern Texohma region of the great Republic of Texas. So my association with our little tribe, the Churches of Christ, went back long before I was ever conceived of. Still, my parents were nonpracticing and I guess that means I was born into the heathen hordes of the unchurched. As I was being brought into the world, to fill the role of second son God was at work in my fathers life.

Jim Mettenbrink, is a personal hero of mine. Funny, I have never met him and his name is written in no great legends of the church. However, without Jim and his loving pursuit to bring Christ's redemption to my father's life the story of my life would go very differently. So, while I was cooing in my crib, and wetting in my diaper Jim was spending his lunches leading my dad to a life of faith. The family story goes that one Sunday morning my dad got up early and told my mom, "Let's goto church!" My mother got up, got her two boys ready and off the ventured. Humorus to me is the perfect organization of God in these things. Although my mom was nonpracticing, meaning she was fine with no church in her life, I can't imagine she the eldest child of George Neal's heritage would have been fine with any church other than her childhood heritage in the Churches of Christ. I am amazed that God orchestrated to lead my dad to an active faith through a man from the only place my mom could have come along to.

I should stop here. This story might be fiction. By that I mean it is the world as best I remember it. This is all truth from my perspective and my memory. If I miss some facts, and misrepresent some events please understand it is only become I have fableized them in my memory. It is the true story of life, veracity of the facts not withstanding. I am very sure the actual players in this memoir have different stories to tell. I am sure their true accounting of these events comes from the same honest spirit. Still, this is my story, as I remember it. To my friends and family who have lived out these experiences along side me, please do not confuse me with fact. My memories have led me to where I am today, they are more valid to my formation than the facts are to story. So with that said, let's resume.

I do not know if it was that Sunday, or a date soon after, but from that point my father accepted Christ and was baptized. My mother, dove head first back into the world of church and so by the time I am able to offer my first memories, I was a church kid. Our time in Nebraska was short and before long my dad was on a two year remote tour of duty in Tulee Greenland, and we were living with my grand parents in Tom Bean, Texas. Most memories of that stoic Non-Sunday School, Non-Institutional, Church of Christ probably come from later visits when I was older. Yet it seems to me that the image of my grandfather in the pulpit proclaiming the word of God, or beside the pulpit with his knees bent and head down leading prayer is as old as these toddler and preschool years. The mention of my grandfather's name draws up four images in my mind, eating peaches in his grove, drinking coffee at the town cafe, riding a combine seated in his lap, and hearing him preach the word of God. Still today,at 32 years old, I feel in the shadow of his dreams for his family when I stand to preach the truth of scripture before a congregation of God's people. I am honored to be a player in the heritage of his greatness.

I learned to love scripture, prayer, and the hymns of the church. My Mamaw Lane loved the hymns of the church. I remember sitting on the front porch of her white house, with it's white picket fence, cracking green beans and singing hymns to God.

"On a Hill Far Away,
Stood an Old Rugged Cross,
The emblem of suffering and shame,
and I love that old cross
Where my dearest and best
For a world of lost sinners was Slain.

And I'll cherish the Old Rugged Cross,
TIll my trophies at last I lay down.
I will Cling, to the old rugged cross,
and exchange it someday for a crown."

We would sing! Amazing Grace, O Happy Day, I'll Fly Away. I still hardly need a hymn book, from those days of singing hymns on my Mamaw's front porch. To be honest, there was also a lot of burning ant hills in Mamaw's backyard with my brother and my cousins Clint, Eric, and Casey. But I am sure that is many years later.

When my dad returned from Greenland, Uncle Sam had set us up with an engraved invitation to life in the Sunshine state. These are hard years of church memories for me. My actual measurable memories of church start in Florida, and it was not a positive environment. My parents found themselves in a "crossroads" church. This sect has also been called "The Boston Movement" or "The Discipling Church." As I remember it, which I am nearly sure is completely factually untrue, we spent 7 nights a week at church. If anything, I learned that church was constant, boring, and irrelevant. I listened to my parents discuss the abuses of the leadership. This was an emotionally toxic sect that used control and manipulation to inappropriately regulate their members lives. I was much to small to have been harmed by it, other than a loathing for church attendance, but I did grow up in an environment of watching my parents heal from it's poisonous toll.

We didn't really "get out" of the church, so much as in 1981 Uncle Sam showed up with moving papers again. This time we were going to Scott AFB, in suburban St. Louis. Our family found it's church home in a little country church that met in a converted metal barn. I have many formative memories as a member of this church. It was a family church, tightly knit and very intimate. My parents some 20+ years later still have close friendships from that little church. I had adults like Dave and Sherry, who gave us value by investing their lives into us little children. I remember potlucks, gospel meetings (once it began to rain on the metal roof right as the preacher got to the rain in the Noah story.) and I remember the Bible class where the teacher gave us $0.31 and told us to give to God any amount we wanted. I gave God $0.06 so as to keep the quarter. My parents made me give the quarter too when they later found out.

It was during those years that I got my first taste of Christian camping. Christian camping will become a thread through out my spiritual life. It started at Camp Ne-O-Tez when I was six years old. I was too young to be a camper, it would be Germany before that started, still I could help out my father at work days, attend family retreats, and accompany my dad as a "camp kid" when he was assisting the staff. I have very precious memories of that wonderful place. My relationship with God began at camp Ne-O-Tez. We have no language structure in our heritage to explain my experience with God as an 8 year old child. It was not a salvation experience, instead it was a relational experience. I can remember being in the Pine Lodge, a fire burning in the fire place, the chairs arranged to look more like the church auditorium than the camp ground cafeteria, me seated in my dads lap listening to Paul Lewis preach. In that place, in that time, I came to first feel the need for relationship with God. There at 8 years old I acknowledged the existence and depth of difference between myself and God. I presented myself to God, and gave him my life for his purposes. The profound depth of those few moments serves as the opening bookend to the treasury of stories I have to tell about God's movement in my life. That night God took me the boy, and marked me for service in the Glory of His Kingdom. It was in that place, at that time the trajectory of my life deferred to the road less traveled. My peers talked about being a fireman, a police, or a doctor. I knew, I was to be a missionary.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

This Is What I Am Talking About!

I do realize that it's possible that God intends to use his followers to create a just world. that's the only thought that keeps me believing in him, actually. maybe if our churches weren't just fucking social clubs designed to make people feel better about themselves and promote their suffocating and sickening agendas, maybe if people in churches actually followed Christ's teachings and lived among the poor, meeting their immediate needs, maybe then we'd see actual change in the world.

This was written by one of our campers from many years ago. She illustrates the challenge of Holding on to Faith SO MUCH better than I could have. She is living out the flesh of struggle that we need to be forming our youth to be prepared for! Without agreeing on every point she makes I share in her tension between what church should look like and what it does look like.

I don't have any easy answers to give her. I am honored to be present as she is asking the question!


Picking Up From Yesterday

I want to pick up from yesterday with this challenge. I have talked to people about this idea before and usually get jokes about being Mormon or Jehovah's Wittiness. Now I know VERY little about either of their theology, so I can only assume I do not conform to the majority of their teachings. However my parents taught me to "chew up the meat, and spit out the bones." So I do intend to rip a practice out of their play books and challenge us to investigate it's benefit on the lives of our youth.

In addition to participation with, we must also fiscally invest in providing the means to devote a first fruits of their adulthood to the Kingdom of God. A summer, a year, any amount of time set aside for forging a lifetime of commitment to God's work should be our dream for these youth that we work into reality by our sacrificial investment into allowing them to respond to God's calling.

Personally, I intend to mandate and find a way to fund a mission year for each of my children before I will pay for the college education. Although this is a priority for my family, I believe it should become a priority of our church leaders and our youth ministries.

I think we speak a bold truth into reality if we allow them pursue God's Kingdom for a period of time foremost in this evolutionary period of life, and then make their collegiate decisions based on their calling by God during that period.

I have recently become a BIG FAN of "The World Race". Although it is not for 18 year old kids, the motivation behind their ministry is the same as I am writing about. To BOLDLY CLAIM young men and women during this impressionable phase for a lifetime of service in God's Kingdom.

A group of us from camp have desired to launch a ministry like this. Although we have made quite a few connections we have not yet assembled a program that will work in an orchestrated way. My request is that is you believe in the ideal of this ministry, let me know, and I will let the others working with me know. We would be greatly encouraged to hear from people willing to commit support to this dream should we be able to launch it into a reality.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Lent:: Holding Onto Faith

It is the time of the year when myself and the other "camp guys" begin to form ideas and plan lessons, activities, and programs for the upcoming summer sessions. This is a wonderful time of the year for me, because I get to slip into youth minister mode. this period is also a challenge for all of us, as we plan to attempt impact in so many lives in such a short period.

This process led me to desire to revisit a concept from a previous post back in December. I included a quote by C.S. Lewis from Mere Christianity. He stated:
We have to be continually reminded of what we believe. Neither this belief nor any other will automatically remain alive in the mind. It must be fed. And as a matter of fact, if you examined a hundred people who had lost their faith in Christianity, I wonder how many of them would turn out to have reasoned out of it by honest argument? Do not most people simply drift away? - C.S. Lewis
I wanted to return to this idea again as I reflect on the outcome of camp and youth ministry in the lives of these many young people we work with at camp and examine their faith experience during their college years. It should be noted that as I have watched many of these young people transition from the protection of their parents household to the freedoms of collegiate life, the decision to attend a Christian college over a secular college has virtually 0% impact on the eventual outcomes of their faith experience. Since getting the desired outcome is not as easy as a road map to the right University, we must genuinely examine our ideas and methods of discipleship.

I read this quote today from a campus minister with Campus Crusade for Christ in San Fransisco:
"My experience... is that 80 percent of all incoming college freshmen who are 'saved' youth group kids become 'lost' college students very quickly. Why? Because they didn't follow Jesus to college. (Instead, they followed their friends, parents, 'the system,' or whatever.) They are usually good kids but not very godly. They are nice Christians but not very Christ-like. They are kind of spiritual but not very Spirit-filled."
The author points out from observation that spiritual success has more to do with the instilled manifestation of their faith to maintain them the through these years rather than a compelled sense of participation in religious services.

Instilling only a duty to religious participation is shallow and leaves our teens with a need to a search for fulfillment. Since the fulfillment brought by empty religious ritual matches the emptiness of the world's offerings the responsibility of religious morality becomes burdensome and gives way to the ease of self fulfillment. Having never been offered true meaning for life, pleasure becomes that purpose.

The contrast to pleasure as a purpose teens is young people who were inspired by their parents and other authority structures to live out the service oriented aspects of the Jesus lifestyle. The young people who have committed to renew their faith regularly by participation in Jesus style evangelism. Please understand that this means more than an occasional "service project" and the periodic "mission trip." This structure to bring meaning to faith requires commitment to it's application.

As I look over the majority of our youth I see only lifeless skeletons. Biblical education has provides a framework to build a Spirit Filled life upon, and yet by our lack of diligent commitment to this growth most of the teens are spiritually emaciated with no robust body of Spirit Filled experiences to promote growth. The gods of greed and pleasure have left our students shattered, withered, and perishing.

This is not a white flag! I have not accepted the atrophy and coalesced to merely offer a shallow ala carte consumerist schedule. Instead it is a prophesy!

Ezekiel 37:1-6 The hand of the LORD was upon me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the LORD and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry.
He asked me, "Son of man, can these bones live?"
I said, "O Sovereign LORD, you alone know."
Then he said to me, "Prophesy to these bones and say to them, 'Dry bones, hear the word of the LORD! This is what the Sovereign LORD says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the LORD.' "
God has brought Ezekiel on survey trip. He has placed him in a valley of death with one instruction, "Speak words of life." I indict myself, my peers in youth ministry, the parents of these young people, and our churches. This indictment is offered as I stand like Eziekel in the valley created by our efforts and I see only wilted remnants of our grave mistakes. The lifeless bones of those entrusted to our ministries are calling out, "Speak words of life, that we may hear the word of the Lord!"

Ezekiel 37:7-10 So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them.
Then he said to me, "Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, 'This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe into these slain, that they may live.' " So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army.

I challenge us as the fathers, mothers, sisters and brothers of these young people to a new commitment of evangelism to our youth. We must enter into the death and reclaim them from the gods of this world we have surrender them to. We must begin to teach new lessons, not in the classroom, but in the praxis of purity and justice.

We must demonstrate the freedom in Christ we have to choose the narrow road that denounces greed and pleasure. We their leaders have been joined to these whores of worldly religion in their midst. Our first words of life must be tears of repentance!

Our second phase of dialog must be action. We must STOP acting like Christ called his church to be philanthropic purveyors of charity! Augustine's words have never been more timely, "Charity is no substitute for justice withheld." Our day timers need to be realigned to afford greater priority to being light in the darkness. We must seek out opportunities to join with God constantly in his work of reconciliation in the world.

We will not be successful in discipling our young people to hold onto their faith until we learn to live out gospel in front of them. The cross is redemptive, meant to resurrect us from the impoverishment of pride and self gratification. We must physically invest in their restitution through constant participation with them in the work of God among our world. Purity and Justice demonstrated will be more foundational to holding on to faith than any lesson, program or activity we can ever plan. We must breathe life into these slain.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Amazing Speech On Reality of Racial Divide

So if you don't have 40 minutes, let me hit my three favorite parts:

On Not Distancing Himself From His Pastor:

And this helps explain, perhaps, my relationship with Reverend Wright. As imperfect as he may be, he has been like family to me. He strengthened my faith, officiated my wedding, and baptized my children. Not once in my conversations with him have I heard him talk about any ethnic group in derogatory terms, or treat whites with whom he interacted with anything but courtesy and respect. He contains within him the contradictions – the good and the bad – of the community that he has served diligently for so many years.

I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community. I can no more disown him than I can my white grandmother – a woman who helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and again for me, a woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed by her on the street, and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe.

These people are a part of me. And they are a part of America, this country that I love.

Some will see this as an attempt to justify or excuse comments that are simply inexcusable. I can assure you it is not. I suppose the politically safe thing would be to move on from this episode and just hope that it fades into the woodwork. We can dismiss Reverend Wright as a crank or a demagogue, just as some have dismissed Geraldine Ferraro, in the aftermath of her recent statements, as harboring some deep-seated racial bias.

But race is an issue that I believe this nation cannot afford to ignore right now. We would be making the same mistake that Reverend Wright made in his offending sermons about America – to simplify and stereotype and amplify the negative to the point that it distorts reality.

The fact is that the comments that have been made and the issues that have surfaced over the last few weeks reflect the complexities of race in this country that we’ve never really worked through – a part of our union that we have yet to perfect. And if we walk away now, if we simply retreat into our respective corners, we will never be able to come together and solve challenges like health care, or education, or the need to find good jobs for every American.

On Seeing Both Sides of The Coin:
And occasionally it finds voice in the church on Sunday morning, in the pulpit and in the pews. The fact that so many people are surprised to hear that anger in some of Reverend Wright’s sermons simply reminds us of the old truism that the most segregated hour in American life occurs on Sunday morning. That anger is not always productive; indeed, all too often it distracts attention from solving real problems; it keeps us from squarely facing our own complicity in our condition, and prevents the African-American community from forging the alliances it needs to bring about real change. But the anger is real; it is powerful; and to simply wish it away, to condemn it without understanding its roots, only serves to widen the chasm of misunderstanding that exists between the races.

In fact, a similar anger exists within segments of the white community. Most working- and middle-class white Americans don’t feel that they have been particularly privileged by their race. Their experience is the immigrant experience – as far as they’re concerned, no one’s handed them anything, they’ve built it from scratch. They’ve worked hard all their lives, many times only to see their jobs shipped overseas or their pension dumped after a lifetime of labor. They are anxious about their futures, and feel their dreams slipping away; in an era of stagnant wages and global competition, opportunity comes to be seen as a zero sum game, in which your dreams come at my expense. So when they are told to bus their children to a school across town; when they hear that an African American is getting an advantage in landing a good job or a spot in a good college because of an injustice that they themselves never committ ed; when they’re told that their fears about crime in urban neighborhoods are somehow prejudiced, resentment builds over time.

Like the anger within the black community, these resentments aren’t always expressed in polite company. But they have helped shape the political landscape for at least a generation. Anger over welfare and affirmative action helped forge the Reagan Coalition. Politicians routinely exploited fears of crime for their own electoral ends. Talk show hosts and conservative commentators built entire careers unmasking bogus claims of racism while dismissing legitimate discussions of racial injustice and inequality as mere political correctness or reverse racism.

Just as black anger often proved counterproductive, so have these white resentments distracted attention from the real culprits of the middle class squeeze – a corporate culture rife with inside dealing, questionable accounting practices, and short-term greed; a Washington dominated by lobbyists and special interests; economic policies that favor the few over the many. And yet, to wish away the resentments of white Americans, to label them as misguided or even racist, without recognizing they are grounded in legitimate concerns – this too widens the racial divide, and blocks the path to understanding.

Finally, On Being Different Than We've Been
The profound mistake of Reverend Wright’s sermons is not that he spoke about racism in our society. It’s that he spoke as if our society was static; as if no progress has been made; as if this country – a country that has made it possible for one of his own members to run for the highest office in the land and build a coalition of white and black; Latino and Asian, rich and poor, young and old -- is still irrevocably bound to a tragic past. But what we know -- what we have seen – is that America can change. That is true genius of this nation. What we have already achieved gives us hope – the audacity to hope – for what we can and must achieve tomorrow.

In the white community, the path to a more perfect union means acknowledging that what ails the African-American community does not just exist in the minds of black people; that the legacy of discrimination - and current incidents of discrimination, while less overt than in the past - are real and must be addressed. Not just with words, but with deeds – by investing in our schools and our communities; by enforcing our civil rights laws and ensuring fairness in our criminal justice system; by providing this generation with ladders of opportunity that were unavailable for previous generations. It requires all Americans to realize that your dreams do not have to come at the expense of my dreams; that investing in the health, welfare, and education of black and brown and white children will ultimately help all of America prosper.

In the end, then, what is called for is nothing more, and nothing less, than what all the world’s great religions demand – that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us. Let us be our brother’s keeper, Scripture tells us. Let us be our sister’s keeper. Let us find that common stake we all have in one another, and let our politics reflect that spirit as well.

If you have another minute, I leave you with his conclusion:
Now Ashley might have made a different choice. Perhaps somebody told her along the way that the source of her mother’s problems were blacks who were on welfare and too lazy to work, or Hispanics who were coming into the country illegally. But she didn’t. She sought out allies in her fight against injustice.

Anyway, Ashley finishes her story and then goes around the room and asks everyone else why they’re supporting the campaign. They all have different stories and reasons. Many bring up a specific issue. And finally they come to this elderly black man who’s been sitting there quietly the entire time. And Ashley asks him why he’s there. And he does not bring up a specific issue. He does not say health care or the economy. He does not say education or the war. He does not say that he was there because of Barack Obama. He simply says to everyone in the room, “I am here because of Ashley.”

“I’m here because of Ashley.” By itself, that single moment of recognition between that young white girl and that old black man is not enough. It is not enough to give health care to the sick, or jobs to the jobless, or education to our children.

But it is where we start. It is where our union grows stronger. And as so many generations have come to realize over the course of the two-hundred and twenty one years since a band of patriots signed that document in Philadelphia, that is where the perfection begins.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Lent:: Palm Sunday Politics

One of the most intriguing stories in the Bible is the sheer mystery of the Passion Week. In a period of 5 days Jesus goes from a celebrated entrance to a despised death. As our churches celebrate Palm Sunday, we are forced to reckon with the realities that take us from Sunday to Thursday.
As Jesus rode into Jerusalem the crowd crowned him with adoration. By Friday morning, he would be paraded through these same streets with detestation.

I am leading the Bible Class with our teens this morning. Our focus is what happened in those 4 days? How did Jesus' political message change a people's entire view of his Kingdom? Why was His Kingdom so terrifying to the powers that be that he had to die?

We are looking at the power of earth's kingdom compared to the power of the Kingdom of God. Rather than detail this thought for you in text, I invite you to read through my class outline, and come to your own conclusions.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Lent:: Hypocrisy and the Do As I Say Mess

My daughter and two of her friends got themselves into a bit of trouble at school. There is a boy who we will call Bob. Bob, according to my daughter's side of the story, was being aggressive and unfair to the three girls. In response to Bob's hostile actions the three girls chartered a club. This is where the issue is. The school has a policy against student initiated clubs. Although, I am completely against my daughter violating rules, and also feel like returning aggression with an allied offense is a carnal rather than spiritual response, I still can not seem to miss the irony that this policy is being legislated and enforced by a unionized workforce.

"Do as I say, not as I do!" I think there is no cliché that is more lived our before children than that one. It is the general policy that your behavior is subject to my rights, but my behavior is not subject to your rights. My wife is the QUEEN of this in regards to cell phone. She can not answer a cell phone. No matter the time of day, her location, and even her known urgency she CAN NOT flip her cell phone open with a friendly, "Hello!" Now I and most her friends have accepted this bizarre personality quirk as just part of the fabric of who she is. Yet, she has gotten literally IRATE at me, because by some weird chance I have left my phone at my desk, in my car, etc... and for the ONCE in a blue moon occurrence, was unable to answer her call.
"Do as I say, not as I do!" She heralds a carry and answer your cell phone so you are available at my every whim policy, yet will not avail herself to the same courtesy to you.

Now I chose the above issue, since it is light hearted and I heckle her about it frequently. Yet the issue behind the hypocrisy is serious in my accounting. Many children, and adults alike have been wounded by the double edge of this selfishness. Parents have wounded children by punishing them for lies, while the children see their parents lying to ease their way out of a stressful engagement. Church leaders have wounded their congregation by preaching against sexual immorality, while being ensnared to it personally. The church as a whole has preached a message of concern about the least of these, while building bigger auditoriums, with better audio, projection, and lighting systems.

As people watch the duplicity of those in authority is perverts their ability to see beyond the falsity of their lip service and engage on any level of truth with that individual. This is why Paul makes the issue of transparency so important to Timothy while giving instructions on the selection of elders:

1 Timothy 3:2-7 Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God's church?) He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil's trap.

I included this text, not for your consideration in your congregation's next elder selection, but instead to challenge all of us to practice the kind of maturity Paul is stating needs to be present in the life of a leader within God's church.

It is important to my sincerity that I not claim to speak with authority on matters of eternal truth if I am not practicing gentleness, peacemaking, simplicity, and compassion that substantiated Christ message through his lifestyle. It is an anathema to the cause of the Kingdom when our conduct is not in submission to our message.

My mother was kind enough last time I was home, to point out a glaring hole between the lifestyle I live and the message I speak. I don't want that disparity. I want to practice the incarnational presence of Christ through mending the gaps in the fence between my carnal struggles (greed, lust, pride, and laziness) and my spiritual freedom in Christ to not be bound by that old nature.

I know I certainly have a long way to go. Yet still I say, "Here Am I Lord, Send Me!"

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Oswald Chambers: On God's Timing

I just wanted to link over to Oswald Chambers post of the day! I need to print this out and hang it on my fridge!

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Meeting Seth Barnes

As with most Sundays, our plan was to go to church as normal. Then yesterday we were excited to read on Seth Barnes blog that he was speaking in Chicago. So we zipped off a quick email, to find out what church and rearranged our plans to join him for worship. This meant getting up a little earlier than normal since this church started earlier than ours.

I got out of bed at 7:00 AM to grab a shower and be ready to walk out the door at 8:30. My oldest awoke with me, and asked if I could log her on to my computer to play Webkinz since she was up an hour early. Unfortunately, neither my wife nor I had remembered to reset the clocks for the time jump. As I booted the computer, which automatically adjusts clock, the reality of the time change came crashing in. I awoke the entire house in a tizzy, began throwing clothes on children, and rushing around to get a family of 5 dressed for a church where we are foreigners and out the door in now what was 20 minutes.

We made the departure, and arrived at the church, who did not start till 15 minutes late, on time. Children were settled and we were ready for the message. It was a great sermon, with 3 great points. Truly it seemed as if it was message God had spent a week preparing us to hear. . Seth first spoke of dreaming Big for God. That is not a problem around our house right now, we are talking quite often about the calling we both feel, we are talking a lot with the kids about the differences between US life and African life. We have been dreaming big since we God back from Swaziland. Seth's final point was to RISK for God's dream.

It was as if he was talking to me, and to my heart. This is where we are at. The dream is solid, the calling is concrete, and the risk is looming. Risk seems a four letter word. Dreams without risk are easy, since with no liability there is no loss. I was cut to the quick teetering between my passion for reckless abandon and my duty of responsible adulthood. I don't know what that means to my life and our family, but I know it is a balance that will teach me to be more dependent on God than I have ever known in the past.

After the service we got to spend some time with Seth. As we were talking Seth asked if I and the family would come to the teen class and let him "interview" us about the process we are going through. It was a VERY neat experience. No prep, no outlines, no points. Just Q&A about our trip, and how that has changed us, and changed our direction. I did most the talking, but even Christi shared about how holding a orphan with malnutrition, sickness, and most likely AIDS wrecked her world.

It was a great Lord's Day!!!! It was an honor to hear a message that seemed so directed to our hearts. It was an honor to meet this "newest" faith hero of mine. It was an honor to speak to these kids about exactly HOW BIG our God is. It was an honor, just to be a little player in God's great kingdom!

UPDATE: Sermon Audio from Western Springs Baptist Church

UPDATE 2: Who Is Seth Barnes - Seth Barnes is the director of Adventure in Missions and the World Race. His work is responsible for over 65,000 people finding a place in Short Term and Long term Missions. His Bio and Blog are both very informative.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Lent:: Abundant Life

"He found that he was often angry...that they were satisfied with their lives which had none of the vibrance his own was taking on. And he was angry at himself, that he could not change that for them." -Lois Lowry
In Lois Lowry's "the Giver" Jonas learns the truth of the world that everyone around him has given up in order to live in the comfort of their mundane lives. The people have given up all memory for the familiarity of a sterile prosaic monotony. There is no war, or hunger, or poverty; for this there is no color, no creativity, and no dreams. Jonas as he discovers the true joy of a life filled with color and promise is forced to flee the flat routine of his worlds uneventful utopia.

The Giver has been one of my favorite books since I first read it. Other books have come and went, but The Giver has maintained it's secure hold as my top fiction title. I am wild at heart spontaneous dreamer and a free spirited radical. I relate the awkward tension between Jonas' world and my own.

My seditious temperament often finds itself deeply pleased by the revolutionary subversion in the interactions between Jesus and his audience. Jesus wasn't safe to invite to a dinner party. I LOVE THAT!!!!

In my personal "pledge of allegiance" John 10:10 Christ contrast his abundant life promise to that of a thief. The thief wants to steal, kill, and destroy. The contrast to the opulence of Christ is not average mediocrity, it is barren poverty.

I am a communicator and yet it frustrates me that so many of the people of God are willing to accept the dearth of complacency despite it's negative effects on their marriages, their children, and their own peace while I am unable to herald a commission to change. Exasperation peaks within me as I look at the requiem of our cars, homes, clothing, and entertainment realizing the routine pursuit of these things are cancerous to us.

I will step off my soap box, put away my bullhorn and "end is near" sign and admit that I need a lot more abundant life too. I am amazed at how opposite the values, challenges, and activities of Jesus from our "norm." I want to be obsessed with His insurgence to a greater measure than I have sought the vacancy of this world's ways. I want abundant life! Here I Am Lord Send Me!

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Lent::: Water Water Everywhere

Next to air, we humans have no physical need more fundamental to us than water. Our body's water supply must be constantly replenished since it is used by so many life systems. This need is made into a dilemma by the fact that though we live on a planet that is 70% water, 97% of that water is poisonous saline.

James makes the parallel between the poisonous nature of bitter talk and the spring of pure refreshment that encouraging talk is to those we encounter. The world is FULL of the pity and pain that bitter, angry, and slanderous talk have caused. Most the conversation of our world, like it's water to the body, is poison to the soul of it's listeners. There is yapping of tounges everywhere, yet so little is an oasis safe to drink and take in deeply.
James 3:9-10 Sometimes it praises our Lord and Father, and sometimes it curses those who have been made in the image of God. 10 And so blessing and cursing come pouring out of the same mouth. Surely, my brothers and sisters, this is not right!
I asked my oldest daughter after we read these verses what James was saying, and her exegesis of the text was that God created our mouths to praise him and when we say mean things to each other that doesn't praise him. Talk about profound truth from the simple world view of a child.

James isn't advocating some superfluous cliche filled God talk, as some people pretend between their quips of gossips. Instead James is demanding a relational alteration of our mindset. Our encounters with our coworkers, our families, our communities, even our enemies must be filtered through the fact that every word and action must be seen as worship as God.

Isaiah, uses the water parallel also to celebrate the pure refreshing nature of communion with God -
Is 55:1-2
“Is anyone thirsty?
Come and drink—
even if you have no money!
Come, take your choice of wine or milk—
it’s all free!
Why spend your money on food that does not give you strength?
Why pay for food that does you no good?
Listen to me, and you will eat what is good.
You will enjoy the finest food."
If we are to be the physical presence of Christ in the world the whole combination of the 2 verses must be a deeply personal conviction for me. My words, my actions, my choices - am I a place where people in poverty (physically, emotionally, and spiritually) can come and drink freely of the Good News of God or am I a bitter pool of poisonous saline?

I want ALL my words, conversations and thoughts to bring restoration, renewal, and regeneration. There is NO PLACE for any talk that does not encourage the beauty and humanity of the person I am talking to.

More Removed Facebook Quotes

So I wanted to add a great quote by Dr. King to my Facebook Profile today relaized how LONG my quotes section had gotten again. In honor of that, I deleted them all, and moved them here. I started over with the MLKjr quote, so you'll have to add me as a friend for that one.

Christ has no body on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which Christ’s compassion is to look out to the world. Yours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good. Yours are the hands with which he is to bless us now. -St. Theresa of Availia
But what has Jesus really brought, then, if he has not brought world peace, universal prosperity, and a better world? What has he brought? The answer is very simple: God. He has brought God! - Joseph Ratzinger
Of all the preposterous assumptions of humanity over humanity, nothing exceeds most of the criticisms made on the habits of the poor by the well-housed, well- warmed, and well-fed. - Herman Mellville
I sit on a man's back, choking him and making him carry me, and yet assure myself and others that I am very sorry for him and wish to ease his lot by all possible means - except by getting off his back. - Leo Tolstoy
On the contrary he who takes upon himself the burden of his neighbour; he who, in whatsoever respect he mjavascript:void(0)
Publish Postay be superior, is ready to benefit another who is deficient; he who, whatsoever things he has received from God, by distributing these to the needy, becomes a god to those who receive [his benefits]: he is an imitator of God. - Mathetes

Well, so I hope you enjoyed them all too.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Lent: Because It's Just So Hard To Choose

As I was putting the girls to bed tonight we read from James as is our custom, and then prepared to say our prayers. My three year old REALLY wanted to say her prayers first tonight, but it was the six year old's turn to say her prayers first. Now I explained to the three year old that she said her prayers first last night, it was still apparent her "delicate feelings" were saddened by the prospect of praying second.

Since the three year old was so pathetic, I thought I would use this as a teaching moment for the six year old. I asked my oldest, "Can your sister go first?" To which I got the much expected no. So I asked her about what we just read.

James 2:14-26 - My brothers and sisters, what good is it if people claim they have faith but don't act like it? Can that kind of faith save them?
Suppose a brother or sister has no clothes or food. Suppose one of you says to them, "Go. I hope everything turns out fine for you. Keep warm. Eat well." And you do nothing about what they really need. Then what good have you done? It is the same with faith. If it doesn't cause us to do something, it's dead.

But someone will say, "You have faith. I do good works."

Show me your faith that doesn't do good works. And I will show you my faith by what I do. You believe there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that. And they tremble!

You foolish man! Do you want proof that faith without good works is useless? Our father Abraham offered his son Isaac on the altar. Wasn't he considered to be right with God because of what he did? So you see that what he believed and what he did were working together. What he did made his faith complete. That is what Scripture means where it says, "Abraham believed God. God accepted Abraham because he believed. So his faith made him right with God." And that's not all. God called Abraham his friend. 24 So you see that a person is made right with God by what he does. It doesn't happen only because of what he believes. Didn't God make even Rahab the prostitute right with him? That's because of what she did. She gave the spies a place to stay. Then she sent them off in a different direction.

The body without the spirit is dead. In the same way, faith without good works is dead.
My question to her was how do we show God's love? "Through doing," she sighed back to me.
"So do you want to show love, or do you want to go first," I asked?
"But it's not fair," she pleaded hoping I would excuse her from the exercise.
"Showing God by doing isn't fair," I responded "It makes us suffer, to give up that right. You have the RIGHT to go first and you can choose that."
At this point I stopped preaching to her because tears were rolling down her little cheeks.
"Why are you crying," I tenderly asked?
"Because It's just so hard to choose!" she cried back at me...

My heart was breaking with her decision. I could not let off her to make the choice and apply the text, yet I knew PRECISELY where she was at. I mean don't get me wrong, I don't go to fisticuffs with my wife because I care who says a prayer first at bedtime. I do know and do struggle with the tension between what is "fair" (mine by right) and living out this Jesus lifestyle, this faith stuff. I deal with her tension myself, when I see a need to meet in a person I encounter, and still want to be lazy and selfish.

It is hard to choose. I want to be like Jesus every decision, every day. I want to be MORE outward focused. I want to not only see but also respond to the physical, emotional, and spiritual poverty around me. I want to be moved, not by the casual, the comfortable, and the convenient, but instead by the Christ. Yet, I am wretched, pitiable, and poor. As Paul says Romans 7:24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death ?

Thank God for the grace of Christ. Thank God for HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS! I can choose, as my daughter did, to submit not to the reality that is mine by right, but instead to the faith that works in the needs of other. I am so grateful for my daughter, my little hero, for showing me what it meant to sacrifice without the pretense of acting like the decision was an easy one.

I have spent these lenten days in extra prayer for poverty and suffering. My prayer, is all the more that God would empower me even more to NOT JUST PRAY about poverty and suffering, but to surrender my rights and enter the WORK of this faith. Here am I Lord, Send Me!

Monday, March 03, 2008

Christi Is Blogging

It is with great excitement that I let you know Christi has joined the Blogging world. It would be unlike my beloved to do anything halfway and this is no exception. She comes out swinging, practicing the kind of vulnerability that the church needs MUCH more of!

I could not be more in love with this woman than I am, and more proud of her for openly admitting her sinful weakness, and working through her submission to God in that area.

Check out her blog: