How do you know?

•November 15, 2007 • Leave a Comment

The question asked to me this week was something like, “How do you know if what you are doing is effective?” In other words, you think you’re doing what you’re supposed to do in terms of teaching and ministry in the lives of individuals and groups, but how do you know if it is working or not?

When I first heard it I gave an answer that was pretty typical (honestly I can’t remember what it was). I would imagine it was something along the line of “planting seeds” and leaving it up to God to take care of the rest. And while that answer is both “Biblically based” and at least gives the image of humility, it seems shallow…almost half-hearted. Like saying “if it’s your will” at the end of a prayer for healing — that way if it doesn’t work out at least we can blame it on God.

This question, however, is a question that has haunted me for the longest time. I can remember almost 10 years ago sitting down with an older pastor (who had begrudgingly taken on the task of “mentoring” me) and asking the effectiveness question. He gave me an answer along the lines of “plant the seed” as well, but then went on to say basically, “If you build it they will come.” In other words “if you do it right” you’ll see the answer to your effectiveness question. Which really means if I will do my ministry in the “right” way, I will receive the attention (popularity) and accolades ($$$) that come with success along with a large number of “changed lives” (which in my tribe meant baptisms and larger gatherings). For some reason that cheesy song “Thank you for giving to the Lord,” is playing in the background of my mind right now.

Something about that answer has always bugged me. I mean I understand how success and effectiveness are measured in today’s world, but I guess I wanted something different — other-worldly. By those standards, which have been the standards that I have used for myself most of my life, Jesus was a colossal failure. So there has to be something else…something besides being effective or doing the right things in the right way.

The answer that I keep coming back to seems too simple — live the Story. There’s a prayer that comes from Thomas Merton that I keep on my computer at school. It’s probably my favorite prayer because it speaks to what I think it means to “live the Story.”

MY LORD GOD, I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.

These days I’m learning to live out that prayer. The fact that I think I’m doing the “right” (or effective) thing doesn’t mean that I am. But my job is to live my life in conjunction with God’s Story — every breath, every heartbeat, every conversation. My purpose is to keep myself aligned with his Kingdom movement and to do my best to advance that movement every day of my life.

This no longer means changing people’s minds and hearts to agree with what I think they should believe (or to save their butts from the fiery pits of damnation). It doesn’t mean saying the “right” words to “convert” someone. It doesn’t mean putting on the best show so that I’ll be the most popular speaker/teacher/writer/whatever. It means something new to me now. It means taking each step of my day in the Spirit — not in an overtly religious whack-job kind of way, but in a loving, healing, Kingdom seeking king of way. When, and if, I can do that and my story crosses paths with your story, we’ll both be transformed into something new. A power is released at that point that draws us both deeper into The Story and not only transforms us as individuals but brings more of God’s will “on earth as it is in heaven.”

Some people wouldn’t call that “effective.” But my hope is that there’s a dusty carpenter from Nazareth who had a relatively small circle of friends, never made a lot of money, and spent most of his time at the dinner table with the outcasts of society who will look at my “ineffective days” on this earth and pat me on the back saying, “You did just fine!”



Taking a Stand

•November 12, 2007 • 2 Comments

There aren’t a lot of things in this life that I simply refuse to do, but there are a few.  Here’s a list of things that you will not find me doing:

I refuse to…

  • call any carbonated beverage a “soda.”
  • use “lol” in any form of written or spoken message…this would obviously exclude “rotflol” as well.
  • do the wave.
  • make a voting choice based on a single issue.
  • order another “Pumpkin Spice Latte” from Starbucks (it tasted horrible and I felt girly just saying it).
  • wear contacts…or put ANYTHING in my eyes except on an emergency basis.
  • allow my children or my wife to go ONE day without hearing me say, “I love you!”
  • vomit.  (I’ve only broken this one on two occasions in the last 25+ years.)
  • watch an awards show on television — those people get enough of my attention without having a special show for it.
  • eat at Long John Silvers…lobster shouldn’t come in nugget form!
  • say the words Wal-mart or Barnes and Nobel in the plural form (there is not an “s” on the end of EITHER).
  • stop adding books to my Amazon Wish list (even though it is insanely long).
  • purchase a last minute gift for my wife on February 13 or December 24!
  • consider Barry Bonds to be the “Home Run King.”
  • give up.
  • give in.
  • give money to any political party.
  • listen to public radio.
  • stop learning.
  • watch Katie Couric on anything other than the Today Show.
  • route for the New York Yankees or the L.A. Lakers.
  • pay more than $20 for a shirt (usually $10 or lower, but I have to admit to a few bad choices).
  • give up Diet Coke.

I’m sure that there are other things on my list…but this is a start.  Some things you just have to take a stand on.

What would you add?

Hide ‘n Seek

•November 10, 2007 • 1 Comment

It has been so long since I’ve sat down to write that I’m not sure if I still remember how to do it. I’ve thought about it a lot. I’ve even started a post or two. But for some reason writing has been hard for me lately.I could use the acceptable excuses…”I’m too busy,” or “There’s just too much going on right now.” Or I could make something up a little more original…”Carpel tunnel is killing me!” But the truth is that I’ve just avoided it. I’ve been hiding.

Hiding isn’t always a bad thing. Think back to the days of Hide ‘n Seek. It’s a pretty simple game, right? You go hide…I’ll pretend to count to 100 while doing my best not to “peek”…then when the “Ready or not, here I come,” announcement is made the game is ON! As I recall (it’s been a few weeks since I’ve played the game), the best part of the game is the hiding. There’s a thrill in finding the perfect hiding spot, and sitting perfectly quiet while the person looking for you walks right by you so many times that you start to hear the frustration in his voice.

After a while, though, the momentum shifts. The person doing the hiding starts to cramp up. Your nose starts to itch. You can feel a sneeze coming on. You have to stifle yourself from jumping out and scaring the pants off the seeker. I can still remember a few times when I would just quit looking to see how long my little brother would stay hidden (he was pretty hard-headed and a master hider so he’d stay hidden for what seemed like hours…and would usually fall asleep).

I’m at that point now where it’s time to come out of hiding. I’m starting to cramp up. I’ve been hiding from myself for too long. It’s easy to hid from yourself. Just stay busy. Don’t sit still too long. Avoid that still, small voice. Life is much easier when you’re in “total control” of your emotions. But control is just an illusion…like a kid hiding under a pile of laundry. In your mind you’ve got everything covered until the sneeze you’ve been stifling blows the towels off your head!

So today I’m starting…it will take a while to get back in the habit. It will take some effort to carve out the time and energy. It will even be slow and clumsy at first. But it’s past due. I’m starting to go numb. I’m waiting for the words that only I can say to myself…

Come out, come out, wherever you are!


Just In Case You’re Praying…

•July 5, 2007 • 3 Comments

O.K. I don’t know how you spent your 4th of July, but I spent mine doing something that might be considered a little nuts by some people.   Yesterday we put one of these signs in our yard:


Yep, that’s right…we put our house up for sale! (We actually used but I couldn’t find a good pic for that!) For those that are keeping score at home, you’ll remember that we moved into this house in SEPTEMBER of last year! That’s less than a year ago. So now you can see why some people will consider this to be a little on the crazy side. (Every few minutes even I think it could be a little on the crazy side.) But wait…there’s more.

When people ask me why I’ve got my house up for sale if I’m honest I’ll have to say, “Because Jesus said so.” Now if you know me very well, you’ll know that I’m not the type to say that very often and I’ll probably hedge on it more often than not even now. But the true answer is that we’ve been talking as a family and I’ve been reading a lot of Jesus lately and I’m pretty sure that He would want us to do this. Here are the reasons:

  • Since we’ve been in this house we don’t have a lot of “margin” in our finances. In fact, it is difficult for us to have any money to give to Kingdom causes. We’ve agreed that we don’t particularly want to devote that money to institutional upkeep, but we do want to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and care for the least of these among us. That’s where we see Jesus spending a lot of his time.
  • Since we’ve been in this house we don’t have a lot of “margin” left in our time. Even though it’s not a HUGE commute, it takes out a good chunk of the day — particularly for Angela. We feel like our time together as a family is too limited and we spend most of that time trying to accomplish whatever task needs to be taken care of. We need time for Sabbath and sharing with our family.
  • Since we’ve been in this house we don’t have a lot of opportunities for community. Although our neighborhood is friendly enough, we have a lot of people that we really want to get to know better. But it’s so far out here, and our time is limited anyway (see above), that we don’t have many opportunities for having people into our home and around our table. We hear a clear call for God’s people to practice hospitality.
  • Since we’ve been in this house we’ve noticed that it’s easy for our kids (and us) to get caught up in “stuff.” Now that may or may not be solved by the living arrangements, but we want them to be thankful for what they have instead of expecting what they want.

Now, that’s the short list, but I think that gets the point across to the craziness that we’re experiencing. We’re stepping out on a limb because we really feel called to do just that. And I’m writing this today for two reasons. First, I think it helps me to think through things when I write and this is one thing that needs a lot of thinking through. We’re looking to move into a neighborhood where we can touch people’s lives, learn to live humbly, and experience community both with our family and those that God puts in our pathway. We want to make the right decisions. And secondly, I’m writing this so that anyone that might possibly still read this blog and may possibly be spending some time in prayer today might be willing to drop our names in when they are talking to God. If this is a God-thing (and I really believe it is) then it needs a major blessing from Him or it will never happen. We want to do this for ALL of the right reasons this time. I’ll keep you posted on our craziness!

Pace e Bene,


Whatcha Readin’?

•July 3, 2007 • 2 Comments

I’ve seen several of these lists lately including these from Grace, RobbyMac, and Brother Maynard so I decided that I’d put my list here.

7 Books I’m Reading (actually there are a lot more than that in process, but I’m limiting myself)

Exiles: Living Missionally in a Post-Christian Culture by Michael Frost — I’m only a few chapters into this one, but Frost is pushing every button I have.  The idea of living from Dangerous Memories is challenging me to relate to Jesus the way I’m supposed to!

Revolutionary Parenting by George Barna — Barna follows up his books on Spiritual Champions and Revolution with some good research on what it takes to raise kids that are more than just “church goers.”

Theology: The Basics and I Believe: Exploring the Apostles’ Creed by Alister McGrath — Honestly I wouldn’t have picked these two up, but I’m writing curriculum for next year and one of the topics is a kind of Theology 101 class.  Good stuff though!

Irresistible Revolution by Shane Claiborne — I’ve read this one before but I’m going back through it again.  The story of Shane’s time with Mother Teresa has changed my way of thinking — “Lord, teach me to love well!”

Leaders Everywhere by Tim Elmore and Art Fuller — Just got back from a leadership conference with Tim and I’m trying to figure out how to implement some leadership development strategies for our students.

Evil and the Justice of God by N.T. Wright — It seems to be pretty normal for me to have a N.T. Wright volume in my queue all the time now.  This one’s taking me a while but it is a question worth answering.

The Myth of a Christian Nation by Gregory Boyd — Again, I picked this one up for school and a section on Christ and Culture, but I’ve read a little of it and it looks pretty good — a little heavy on one end of the political scale, but I understand why.

That’s mine — if you’re reading this consider yourself tagged and let me know what books you’re reading!  (As you can see I’m ALWAYS in the market for more books!  You should see my Wish List!)

The Rich Young Ruler [Redux]

•July 2, 2007 • 1 Comment

The young pastor decided to get away for a little while to get some peace and quite while he studied.  The office was no place to get any work done since the latest growth spurt and all of the talk of the new building program.  Everybody wanted a piece of his time, but none of them seemed to think about the fact that he was still responsible for getting two sermons and a class ready each and every week.

It wasn’t like this at his first church.  Things there were a lot quieter.  He had time to study and to spend doing the ministry that he loved.  He and his wife spent a lot more time with the people that needed them.  They really felt like family.  That’s why it was so difficult to leave when they did.

But this was the opportunity that he had been praying about since he felt the call into ministry — to lead a large church into new territory.  First Church had all of the markings of a potential mega-church and the leadership was ready to take things to the next level.  They were in full swing with their new “seeker-driven” model and they were really taking strides to “make a difference” in the community.  And the new building campaign was the next step in making that dream come true.

They had launched the campaign six-months ago with a big neighborhood carnival.  “We want to be good neighbors to the people of our community,” was the quote below his picture in the local paper.  Above his head in the picture was the brightly colored banner that read, “Catch the Kingdom Vision!”  And it seemed like people were completely on board from day one when they reached over half of their stated goal in pledges on the first weekend!

But that was six-months ago.  Today they reached the three-quarter mark for their pledges and while everyone around him was excited, he felt drained.  He had been preaching about Kingdom Vision for six months now and he needed something fresh, but sitting in the office with all of the phone calls and distractions wasn’t going to make that happen.  So he decided to get away for a little while.

When he found his favorite bench in the local park to be empty he breathed a sigh of relief.  “Thank you,” he whispered as he glanced at the blue sky above.  He sat down, found a good spot for his Starbucks Caramel Macchiato and opened his book bag.  He pulled out a few books by N.T. Wright and Eugene Peterson and then shyly pulled out one worn copy of a Brian McLaren book and slipped it underneath the others.  Since he had been here before he knew that he could get a decent wireless internet connection so he pulled out his new Mac and fired it up.  Now, at last, he could get some work done.

That’s when the unexpected happened.  He had heard about things like this before, but never in the middle of a public park.  And certainly not to an evangelical pastor!  He noticed the man coming toward him and thought that he looked very familiar.  As the man got closer the young pastor lifted his glasses and rubbed his eyes.  Was he seeing things?  Is this who he thought it was or was it some kind of vision?

The stranger walked up to the park bench and asked the young pastor, “Do you mind if I join you for a while?”

“S..s..sure,” replied the stunned pastor as he slid his stack of books closer to his side.

“Sure is a nice day for a walk in the park,” said the stranger.

The pastor looked around…partly to see if anyone was watching this conversation and partly to notice the beauty of the day.  “I don’t get out here much any more, but yes it is a nice day.”

“You know who I Am, don’t you,” the stranger’s words seemed more like a statement of fact than a question.  As if he already knew the next words out of the pastor’s mouth.

“I’m pretty sure that I do, but I’m really surprised to SEE you here in the park!”

“I don’t get out here much anymore either, but I thought you could use a visit today.”

“Wow!  I’m not sure what to say.  I mean, should I bow down and pray for a while or what,” the pastor asked with a slight quiver in his voice.

“Nah…I just thought we could visit for a while if that’s o.k. with you.  But now that I think about it, I guess that IS praying, huh?”

The pastor thought for a second and chuckled to himself, “Yeah, I guess it is.”

“So what brings you out here today?  Trying to get a little work done, I see.”

“Yeah.  The church office was WAY too busy to concentrate today, and I’ve got a sermon series that needs a breath of fresh air so I decided to get one myself.”

“Whatcha preaching about?”

“It’s called Kingdom Vision.”

“Sounds like a great topic…one of my favorites,” the stranger said with a slight grin on his face.

“Mine too!  But I’ve been doing this one for six months now and it’s getting a little stale.”

“Hmmm…I taught about that same topic every day for three years, and I never had that problem.  What do you think is wrong?”

“Well, it’s not the topic per say.  It’s more of what the topic has come to mean in our setting.  We’re calling our big building campaign Kingdom Vision as we look to take the church to the next level.”

“Oh, I see.  So what are all of the books for?”

The pastor picked up the N.T. Wright and Alan Hirsch books and began to put them in the bag.  “I read these to help me understand the nuances of Scripture and to help me understand the Kingdom message in the original context.”

“What about that other one,” the stranger asked.

“Uhhh…” the pastor stammered as he picked up the McLaren volume, “I read that one to help me bring the message down to a more understandable level.”

“Oh.  So you read that book to translate the other books that you use to translate the Bible!”

“Something like that,” replied the pastor.

“So why are you having to work so hard to translate the Message of Scripture,” the stranger asked quizzically.

“Some of this stuff is pretty difficult to teach in a way that people understand,” the pastor replied as he noticed a touch of defensiveness in his voice.

“Can you give me an example of what you’re talking about?  I mean, I know that some of the teachings are difficult to follow, but I think that they are pretty simple to understand.”

“O.K.  I can give you one.  In fact it’s the one that I’m working on this week.  This passage here where, uhhh, Jesus talks with the Rich Young Ruler and tells him to give all of his money away and then talks about how difficult it is for a rich man to enter into the Kingdom.  That’s a pretty tough metaphor, don’t you think?”

“What do you mean, metaphor?”

“You know, a word picture.”

“Yes.  I know what a metaphor is!  I just don’t know what THAT has to do with THIS passage,” chuckled the stranger.

“See this is all metaphorical!  The rich man represents worldly wealth and Jesus teaches his followers that they should take their wealth in the world and use it for Kingdom purposes.  Then he goes on to reference a gate in Jerusalem called the “Needle’s Eye” where a camel would have to get down on all fours and crawl through just to enter.  What you’re saying…I mean what he’s saying here is that even though it is difficult people should humble themselves and give generously to Kingdom causes.”

“Like building campaigns,” the stranger interjected.

“If necessary, yes, like building campaigns.  Do you see the metaphor that I’m struggling with now,” asked the pastor a little frazzled.

“I see where there is a struggle, but I have to say that there really isn’t any metaphor problem.  It’s just an obedience problem from my point of view.”

“What do you mean there’s no metaphor problem?  Everything you…I mean He…taught was a metaphor.”

“Yes.  I’ll admit there are a lot of metaphors in the Message, but this isn’t one of them!  The mustard seed…now there was a great metaphor!”

“So what you’re telling me is that when Jesus encountered a rich man who was trying to find his way into the Kingdom he really expected the man to sell all of his stuff and give his money to the poor!”

“That’s right.”

“Well how am I supposed to preach about that when we’ve got this building campaign going on,” the young pastor pleaded his case.

“I think you’ve got bigger issues than preaching, young friend,” the stranger remarked as he glanced at the new Mac and the Grande Starbucks.

The pastor noticed the look in the eyes of the stranger.  He felt chastised and deeply loved all at the same time.  He closed his computer and put it in his bag.  He shyly glanced at the Tag Heuer watch that he was given when he started working at First Church.  He looked back at the stranger and said, “I think I get what you’re saying now.  I’ve got an appointment back at the church in a few minutes, though.  Maybe we can talk like this again.”

“I’m always around,” the stranger smiled.

And the young pastor went away sad, because he realized that he had great wealth.

My Manifest Destiny

•June 29, 2007 • 2 Comments

“There’s a single word that identifies [the life I desire to live], it is congruence — congruence between ends and means, congruence between what we do and the way we do it.” — Eugene Peterson

There is a single spot in this great big country of ours where a person can stand and literally be in four states at one time. On this one tiny piece of dirt you can experience a little bit of territorial schizophrenia as you stand in Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah simultaneously. This piece of land and the opportunities that it represents attracts adventurous souls! I guess it could be fun — you could spit in each state if you wanted to! You could play the ultimate game of Four-Square! You could take out the golf clubs and be able to regale your buddies with stories about the time that you literally “drove the ball across four states.” Or you could do like most people and whip out the disposable camera, put on the cheesy grin, and stand there at the biggest intersection in the country.

The funny thing about all of this is that the Four Corners National Monument actually attracts tourists. I suppose these are the same people that pull off the highway every time they see a historical monument (for some reason I’m picturing a Chevy Chase moment). But I can’t say that it isn’t everything that the brochures claim that it is (I assume that they have brochures.) because I’ve never had the opportunity to visit Four Corners…and I can’t really think of any reason that I ever would want to. However, I do understand the feeling of standing in that “in-between” place, and honestly I can’t see why anyone would ever want to take a picture of THAT.

That feeling of living “in-between” two worlds is one that I’ve felt a lot lately. I tend to walk the state line between the life that I desire and the one in which I seem to have set up permanent residence. Don’t get me wrong here. I’m not having a pity party because I’m wanting a place where the grass is always greener, the land flows with milk and honey, and money really does grow on trees. What I want is to truly experience what Eugene Peterson calls “congruence.” Living the Life through, in, and because of Jesus. Not just DOING “Jesus-stuff” but residing IN Him. Peterson goes on to say, “Only when we do the Jesus truth in the Jesus way do we get the Jesus life.” Not just believing “right” or acting “right” but living WELL.

I ran across this post recently at Toward Simplicity:

“perhaps i believe that his teachings only had significance for the people living
in his day but what if Jesus’ teachings should be followed more literally?

what if he really meant i should love my enemy?

what if he really meant that i should not worry about my life?

what if he really meant for me to follow him?

what if the poor, those who weep, those who are hungry, and the persecuted really are blessed?

what if the rich really are in crazy deep danger?

what if i really am supposed to forgive again and again ad infinitum?

what if i really am supposed to take care of the widow and the orphan not abandoning them to homes where somebody gets paid to feed them and trim their toenails?

what if i really am supposed to give to everyone who asks and lend without expecting

What if? That’s a tough one for me. I’ve heard a lot of people lecture on which parts of the Bible are supposed to be taken “literally” and which ones aren’t. But I’ve never heard those people argue FOR this kind of living. It’s usually something about which Hymnal Jesus would want us to use, or the proper gender for standing and passing communion plates. But I don’t hear too many preachers (including myself when I’ve done that kind of thing) actually encouraging people to step across the state line and LIVE the Jesus Way.

More and more, I’m finding myself drawn to step across that state line. Life here on this side has it’s good days, and there is a lot that I’ll miss if I actually do make the move. But there is something about this new wilderness that I’m looking at that is compelling. I want to step into the unknown, and start walking toward the horizon just to see what adventures are around the bend.

Then the questions start! What about your kids? Your wife? (Not like I’m leaving them behind! Just that it’s one thing to sacrifice for yourself but to drag other people into a sacrifical life seems a little rude.) What about the comfort, security, safety of home? You’ve lived here for so long…won’t that be — weird?

For the longest time the questions have glued my feet to the platform and kept me from taking the next step. But I’m starting to get a clearer view of the new land, and I’m learning more about the One that is calling me for a change. I can’t say that I’m setting up residence yet…but I’m looking to make a move in that direction!

I’ll send pictures!