Tuesday, April 28, 2009


A friend responded to a recent post on Facebook by saying “Trust is a mental identification with God believing he will provide. Dependence is being in a spot where if God doesn’t do something, because you have no other resource, you will perish—kind of like Moses at the Red Sea.”


When your back is up against the wall – literally against the wall – trust quickly turns to dependence. Because if God doesn’t show up, you’re sunk.

Is there anything you’re doing that requires some move of God? The truth of the matter is that too many of us are more self-sufficient that dependent. In fact, dependence isn’t thought of us as being a good thing. So, we order our world in such a way that we can get by utilizing our own resources, relying on our own strength, and trusting in our own abilities. We become our own god, inhabit cities built of our own ingenuity, and when we do suffer it’s often under the weight of our own excess. And when we go to church and say ‘give us this day our daily bread’ we really know very little about what that means.

We’ve become satisfied trusting a God we don’t have to or expect to depend on. It reminds me of something I read once (I think it’s from Mr. God This is Anna)

“I’d like to buy three dollars’ worth of God, please. Not enough to explode my soul or disturb my sleep, but just enough to equal a cup of warm milk or a snooze in the sunshine. I want ecstasy, not transformation. I want the warmth of the womb, not a rebirth. I want a pound of the eternal in a paper sack. I’d like to buy about three dollars’ worth of God, please.”

That says it all. Just give me enough God to say I’m trusting Him, not enough to live into life-changing dependence. That God of dependence is bigger than the $3 we want to spend.

People all over the world are depending on a big God to show up. They actually depend on God for their literal daily bread. It’s not a mental exercise. They’re walking in real time with a real God. There’s no tomorrow unless God shows up today.

I’m not even sure where I’m going with this. All I know is that I’m too easily satisfied. I get into my groove. I talk about trust and know so little of dependence. Something’s got to give.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

The Interview

Yesterday I was interviewed by a local paper regarding the launch of a new service at the church. He asked good questions. Hopefully, I gave good answers.

The last questions were especially difficult. “Why should it bother a church that so many in our culture choose to stay at home on Sunday mornings? Why don’t you just grab those you can and not worry about the rest?”

Why indeed?

The geographical place (near western suburbs of Chicago) where I do ministry is populated with overachieving, high pressure, driven, affluent people. They run and run and run some more. They look tired. They talk tired. They are often arrogant when they talk about what they do and don’t believe. And they are looking for something to fill some holes in the very depths of their being but oftentimes won’t admit it. Sometimes I wonder if they know how to listen to the longings deep inside them. Most of these people stay at home on Sunday mornings. They don’t see the church as having relevance. They’re bored by church services and look at God only as ‘good luck’ for weddings, funerals, and perhaps the baptism of newborns.

These people matter to God. They should matter to us.

There’s another group of people. They go to church and are quite satisfied. They’re religious. But have they turned the corner and become ‘followers of Jesus’? These folks settle for churchmanship, ceremony and ritual at the expense of authentic faith experience. You’ve been in their churches. And walked away dissatisfied.

These people, too, matter to God. They should matter to us.

And there are those who ‘get it’. They love Jesus. They don’t want to be religious. They want their tithe to count. They don’t want to hunker down. And they’re not in our churches. They believe in community but feel out of place in most churches. And they know that ‘community’ is essential to their spiritual growth They’re concerned about a disinterested culture but have no place to live out that concern.

These people matter to God. They should matter to us.

These are the people we’re trying to reach.

Those who get it but aren’t involved.
The religious who are involved but don’t get it.
And a waiting culture aching to get it but don’t know it.

It’s hard to explain all this to a reporter who, at best, might only know about religion and nothing about men and women alive in their faith. And so, he wonders ‘why does it matter to you that people stay away on Sunday mornings?”

These people matter to God. They should matter to us.

In the first sermon of our new service we talked about Mark 1 and 2. The healing of the paralytic. He was the one carried to Jesus on a mat, lowered through the roof.

The second chapter of the Gospel of Mark starts with these words. A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home. They gathered in such large numbers that there was no room left, not even outside the door and he preached the word to them.

No room. That was the story of Jesus life. There was no room in the inn when he was born and now no room for all those wanting to see and listen to him.

It doesn’t surprise me that people crowded in to see Him. Jesus had been in and around Capernaum, his home base, for days.. We read that he was speaking with great authority in the synagogue when a demon possessed man entered. Jesus silenced the demon and released the man from bondage.

Immediately after that Jesus went just down the road to Simon’s mother in laws house. She was sick with a fever. He touched her. The fever went away.

And then, in a short period of time, Jesus saw lots of people …everyone was looking for him …lots of people wanting to see him, to hear him and maybe, just maybe be healed.

In the Galilee the word spread like wildfire. The gossip mills were working overtime …whenever anyone said “What’s up?”. The quick answer was this guy named Jesus. Demons obeyed him, he spoke with authority, men and women were following him and people were being healed. And I can imagine anyone hearing this news looking at the person and saying …”Seriously? For real? Honest?” And the word back. “ Seriously. Saw it with my own eyes. For real.”

So, it’s no wonder when he came back into town that he drew a crowd. And in front of that crowd Jesus cured a man ‘inside and out’. An everyone was amazed.

There’s something about Jesus that is attractive and life giving. We’ve forgotten that. People came to see Jesus. He transforms lives.

Maybe that’s what I should have told that reporter instead of some mumbo jumbo about spiritual DNA, blah, blah, blah.

Maybe I should have just said to the reporter. ‘Come and see’. Let us introduce you to Jesus from the Galilee. We’ll make room for you. Take your time. Ask your questions. Find healing for your terminal restlessness. Learn that less can be more.

That’s really what it’s all about. Our church is starting a new service because we want ‘religious people to discover the joy of relationship’ and we want a disinterested culture to find out they matter to God and we want those who know the value of community to finally experience it.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Hospital Musings

The night before I had my defibrillator installed Anita said something like this "You know, this is pretty routine stuff but in a hospital nothing is really routine. What if you died?" I know, I know ...you're thinking - "Wow, she has the gift of encouragement!" Actually, we got a pretty good laugh out of it. It was one of those statements that didn't come out quite the way she meant it. At least I hope not.

The hospital room where I stayed this week was huge. More than enough room for two beds and medical equipment. In fact, after a quick doze I awakened to find six portable computer stations hunkered down in the middle of the room. Out of nowhere they began to appear.

It was, in fact, a storage room. Directly across from the elevators it was a perfect space for stashing all kinds of things, including patients when needed. Last night it was portable computers, one defib patient (that’s me) and two different roommates.

My first roommate had experienced some chest pains and dizziness on the job. He was there for some testing. My guess he was in his late 40’s or early 50’s. I overheard him talking to his boss wondering aloud if this ‘first in his career medical issue’ might hurt him in what looked like some looming job cuts. The sound of his voice indicated he wasn’t getting the assurances he needed. Fortunately, his medical issues tested out to be minor and he was released. He was freed to deal with an uncertain future.

My second roommate came in later in the evening. He was Mexican/American. 60ish. He couldn’t speak English. As I watched a steady stream of non-Spanish speaking medical people attempt to care for him I started to feel some of the frustration he must have been feeling. How hard it must be to be sick and be unable to communicate with the health professionals trying to attend to your needs.

I’m struck by the fact that health care workers truly are the color of the rainbow, coming to America from all over the globe. The stories are varied, the accented English brings some much needed variance to an ear accustomed now to Mayor Daley Chicagoisms. I was struck by the fact that if someone had a genuine mistrust of multi-culturalism or harbored ill will towards anyone from outside our border …well, a hospital might not be the place for them.

The hospital personnel I interacted with were uniformly kind and professional. I was in good hands. Because of where I live, the easy access to information at my fingertips, and great insurance I have a lot of choices when it comes to health care. I have access to the best equipment. This morning my defibrillator talked to a computer. The rep from the defib company showed me how my machine could talk to her machine. Fascinating.

I’m truly blessed. Many aren’t.

Still too many in our country are using emergency rooms for primary care or neglecting care altogether. They work sick and hurt because they can’t get time off, lack insurance, or can’t get the access to information some of us take for granted. I’ve heard many people of privilege complain about the poor – making jokes about entitlement, and snidely suggesting that poverty is akin to laziness. I think those who complain and joke in such a manner need to open their eyes. There’s more to the story. Much more.

I wonder how many prayers were prayed for me? Lots. I’m blown away and thankful. So many people I know believe that God still cares for each and every one of us. You believe God wants to hear and answer prayers. I knew I was ‘being lifted up’. That bolstered my spirits.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009


Tomorrow, I get a defibrillator. Funny how something like this impacts you. I’m really OK but a little nervous. On a scale of 1-10 this is isn’t even close to being at the top of the scale. But it’s not a 1.

It’s a signal about mortality. There is an end. Intellectually, we all know that life on this earth stops. But there are moments in life when you draw a deep breath and you begin to grasp it. This is one of those moments.

Tomorrow I get wired. Thursday I’m home. Life will go on. But it will be different. You won’t notice. Nobody will. But I’ve got a hunch that this ‘procedure’ is going to get my attention. And it’s good.

We all need wake-up calls, those times when life stops long enough for God to speak into our lives. Some people get those calls but fail to listen. They stop. But don’t hear. Their ears aren’t tuned to the whispers of God. I want to listen, to really hear.

I think I’ve got a lot of living left to do. God’s giving me this ‘fix’ for that rogue gene in my body for a purpose. I feel it in the depth of my being. Now, what is that purpose?

Generally, I know I exist to know, love and serve God. That’s basic catechism. In and through fulfilling this basic purpose I wonder what divine assignment God has for me next? That’s the intriguing question.

What is it? Is there something my unique blend of gifts and talents could be used for above and beyond how God has used them already? That’s exciting and a bit terrifying to ponder. But it goes beyond excitement and terror. It’s actually quite energizing to think about the possibilities of being used by God in a way that suggests a rather interesting, albeit unpredictable future.

So, tomorrow is a wake-up call beckoning me to ‘life’. As always, I have a choice.

Stay tuned.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Difference Makers

I’ve always been interested in ‘difference makers’. You know the people I’m talking about, don’t you? They’re the people who make things happen in little and small ways. We notice them.

Some difference makers are evil people. They live in the dark dungeon of ego. Their gifts and talents are considerable but when push comes to shove they choose to be less than they were created to be. They die rich but impoverished. The are remembered but not mourned.

I’ve been observing difference makers of another stripe for a long time in the hopes of becoming one myself. They are the legacy builders. Their impact makes our world and lives a better place. We count on them. And I’ve discovered some things about these men and women.

These difference makers live with a sense of intentionality and integrity that goes against the cultural grain.

Difference makers, like this, work hard, relish play, aren’t afraid to be introspective and genuinely believe that ‘people matter to God’. They instinctively seem to know how to bring out the best in people even in the midst of trying times. They try to maximize their God given gifts and talents. As a result they are a force for good in our society.

Difference makers keep mentally, emotionally, physically, relationally and spiritually sharp. More often than not the decisions they make are based upon well chosen values rooted in an authoritative source. And they are driven by those values even to the point of looking odd in the midst of a trendy culture. They’re not afraid of the truth and will stand up for it.

In a world filled with people who want to take the most obvious shortcut difference makers build bridges and tear down walls. It takes work but that kind of work is worth the price it exacts.

The world is filled with forgettable people. Difference makers are missed when they aren’t involved. There’s a hole that needs to be filled. Without them there’s often a vacuum of trust and heartfelt service.

I’ve discovered that difference makers are known for their deep commitments. When you find someone making a difference you almost always find someone who deeply desired to be a responsible decision maker, to living life with vision and purpose. Difference makers want their lifestyle to match their rhetoric. Watch them with others and you will see someone who treats people with dignity, civility and respect. They are empowering, synergistic team players.

A person isn't born a difference maker. He or she needs to be taught, mentored, and held accountable. It is a life long process of being guided by noble principles that spur the development of foundational skills, perceptions, and habits.

For those of us who have faith being a difference maker starts with humbly acknowledging the truth about ourselves before a great God who loves us like mad. We turn over the life that rightfully belongs to Him and ask that He molds us into a person who looks more and more like Jesus. He makes the real difference. Our life takes on meaning, purpose, and intentionality. We start to love and care in ways we never thought possible. Our life begins to count in ways we never imagined. It’s a good way to live. We make a difference because God is making a difference in us.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Memories of Willie

Bro. Willie died.

Willie was a Benedictine monk at St. John’s Abbey and University where I did my undergraduate work. I knew him when he was in his 60’s. He died in his 90’s. He was a simple man. He worked first in the monastic dairy and later become a legendary night watchman, patrolling our campus. He was known as the Night Abbot and often said that his job was "to make sure the night started on time and ended at the right time, because if someone doesn't watch it, how will everyone know when it's done?" So popular was Willie that when a new college commons was opened the community named the campus watering hole after him. Who knows how many pints have been lifted, in his honor, at Bro. Willie’s Pub?

His death reminded me of the ‘unforced rhythms of grace’ I saw lived out before me during my college years. Matthew 11:28-30 quotes Jesus.

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you'll recover your life. I'll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me-watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won't lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you'll learn to live freely and lightly.” The Message.

Benedictine monks live life together under the Rule of St. Benedict. The Rule helps them establish a rhythm to their life that can be summed up very simply …Worship and Work. Early in the morning the monks would gather for prayer, again at noon time, and finally in the evening. They’d come before God … to seek His face … to give praise … to intercess for others. And then they would continue their worship as they moved into their work and their play. For some their work took them to the kitchen or the carpentry shop. For others the lab or the classroom. For Brother Willie, it was in the dark of night, shuffling through the hallways of the campus.

For the monks, all of life was a prayer. It was an easy rhythm. No false dichotomies between what was sacred and what was secular.

Looking back, there was a peacefulness about that unforced rhythm. The monks were alive, very present and filled with joy. There was much laughter, a sense of wisdom, a connectedness to the past and an anticipation for what the future might hold.

Was it a perfect place? No. What place is? But the rhythm of their life together became a habit that nurtured the good things God offered.

All too often I live life at a frenetic pace. I rush here and I rush there. I’m sometimes persuaded that some things I do are sacred and others not. I forget that simple pleasures are gifts from the Lord. I don't see God in the ordinary places of life.

Brother Willie was a good man. I was saddened to read of his death but warmed by his memory. And God used his life once again to remind me that there is a better way to live …leaning into the unforced rhythms of grace, keeping company with Jesus who wants to teach me how to live freely and lightly. That’s good news.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Space Between

Life throws curves at us. One day we know stuff. The next day we don’t. It creates an awkward space between knowing and unknowing. One day we’re sure about a relationship, the next day not. One day we’re sure about our spot on a team and the next day that spot is taken. Yesterday we were sure about our health and today we find ourselves waiting anxiously, until tomorrow, for the results of a test.

The ‘space between’ confounds us. It forces us to wait, reconsider, reorient. We don’t like it but it’s been a constant in our lives and will remain so.

Such is this Saturday – the ‘space between’ Calvary and the Empty Tomb.

I wonder what was going through everyone’s mind.

Did the apostles feel cheated?
Did the religious leaders feel at all guilty?
Did the soldiers even care?
Did hope die?
Did Pilate feel any remorse?
Was Barabbas indeed free?
Were expectations shattered completely?

What would I be thinking?

I’d like to think that somehow, someway I’d be able to connect the dots. That I’d be able to connect the prophecy to the person to the events. I’d like to think that.

The truth. I’d struggle.

Did I waste my time?
Why didn’t He run?
Why was hope snatched from me?
What’s going to happen to me now?
Will I ever trust again?

The ‘space in between’ isn’t often very pretty. It’s a hard place. Questions can gnaw at you. Hope runs away. Faith cowers in the face of cruel reality.

The ‘space between’ is where knowing and unknowing collide and where our humanness shows how brittle it really is Thoughts of tomorrow are pushed aside because of the fragile memories of yesterday.

It’s a good place to sit for awhile I think. We rush sometimes to the end of the story, we Christians do. We don’t want to sit where it’s uncomfortable. And yet, it is there where God often meets us. It’s in the stuff of ‘in between’ life where God often enters in and speaks and comforts, consoles and challenges.

Embrace the ‘space between’. It’s sacred space. Different from Friday. Not the same as Sunday. Still important.

Friday, April 10, 2009

I wonder

I wonder.

Eyes wide open. Bent limbs straightened.

Life direction altered. Forgiveness offered.

Where were they? On this day.

Did fear grip them?
Did busyness bind them?
Did memory fail them?

I wonder

Why religion can scare away wisdom?
And uncertainty closes down possibility?
And how one chooses to kill?
And does having to be right cause blindness?

And angry? So angry.

I wonder

How anyone could believe they might not be Peter?
Or shake a head knowing they would not have slept?

I wonder

What love compels someone to know about cruel death?
And then to walk towards it to the end?

I wonder

Why I sometimes act as if I don’t care?
Because I do.

I wonder

If I can live into the meaning of Friday?
The unknowing of Saturday?

I wonder

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Scratchin’ an itch.

I’ve known men who have habitually scratched their sexual itch. And lost a family in the process.

I’ve know folks who have always been itchin’ for a fight. They always seem to find one.

Sometimes we scratch an itch and it feels really good. And sometimes we scratch an itch that’s best ignored.

Deep inside of us, way down where only God seems to know the way there’s an itch that needs scratchin’. We might not be able to name it but we know it’s there. Bill Hybels calls that kind of itch a ‘holy discontent’. It’s a response against something bad that needs fixing. It’s a beckoning to heal some deep wound somewhere in our culture. It’s a God-breathed call to action.

Want to know something? We’ll never be truly content until we deal with that discontent. Honest.

I’ve been trying to figure out what my ‘itch’ is all about and what I need to do about it. Been asking myself the question, “What gets to you, Mike?”

Here’s what I think it is. Drum roll please.

I can’t stand to see people of faith live complacent lives in the midst of unrelenting world and local problems.

And so, I want to light a fire under people so they can grow into the man or woman God has called them to be. When they do that …well then, maybe, they’ll be the answer to some of those problems our world faces.

Of course, I can’t light any fire under anybody until I’m willing to come face to face with my own unholy complacency. Believe me, it’s there.

It’s easy to stay put, settling for the status quo, scratchin’ itches of my own making. But I know it’s not enough. There’s something empty about all of that. Growing old, fat, and more and more complacent doesn’t seem like much of a life. So what if you achieve your version of the American dream but live out your days knowing that there is an itch deep inside that you never got scratched?

The happiest people I know have a bit of an edge to them. They see life differently. It’s like they have a ‘God lens’ they’re looking through all the time. They stir things up. Force you to think. Their excitement is contagious. Their faith is ‘alive’.

I think I know why. They’ve scratched their itch and found out that it never quite goes away. It’s not uncomfortable. It’s not a bad thing. It’s just with them. It motivates them. It drives them. It reminds them to open their eyes and to see a world desperately in need of a kingdom touch.

Got an itch? Deep inside? Real deep? Planted by God? Go to where it is. See what ‘holy discontent’ is hidden there. Maybe it’s feeding the hungry or helping a child learn to read. Maybe it’s a desire to heal the world and you find yourself with your M.D. caring for the sick and hurting. Maybe it’s a call to heal broken marriages. It’s something. And that something is good. It can change a lot of lives, including your own.

Mine is to light a fire under you. How am I doing?

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Lost it

My spiritual director looked at me and stated quite emphatically-

“You’ve lost your inner authority. You’ve got to get it back.”

That wasn’t fun.

But it was honest and raw. He didn’t mean that I had lost my faith. He was telling me that I was operating in reaction to whatever was happening around me and not with a God-purposed response.

He’s right.

There’s a difference between a reaction and a response. It’s easy to be directed by circumstance. It’s an entirely different thing to be directed by values and principles and a divinely inspired sense of purpose and vision.

A friend told me today that entropy is the process where things move from order to disorder. Order has to be something intentionally embraced and cared for. Otherwise the natural tendency is to move towards reactive, disordered responses.

My spiritual director was basically telling me that I’m in an entropic, downward spiral. It shows up as disorder in a person’s life. And no matter how hard we try to mask it others begin to notice. More importantly God notices it. And he says through good people, “You’re losing your inner authority.”

That’s something that’s getting my attention. Big time. I've learned to pay attention to someone else's wisdom.

My sin is that I don’t live into my potential as often as I could. Don’t defend me. There’s a truth to that. I’m working on it but when I replace my ‘inner authority’ (the compass of God) with reactive tendencies I don’t come close to my potential. And it’s noticeable. Predictable, destructive patterns emerge.

My spiritual director asked me to do something spiritually significant (a discipline)to both get my attention and fess up to God. This entry is part of that process. Not the whole of it, just part. I confess I’ve lost something of my ‘inner authority’. I want it back.

But I’m learning something more. I'm going to have to take a step of faith. In all honesty, that might be one doozy of a step into the unknown, into a more radical trust. I'm not even sure what that means exactly. It's both scary and invigorating.

I'm motivated. You see, I need to regain my voice and self-confidence. Reclaim who I am in Christ. This is what we call a ‘kairos’ moment...a moment in time when one sees the possibilities of and enters into a God designed life-change.

As esoteric as all this sounds, there’s some big truths that are coming to the forefront. Things like: Don’t live reactively. Tap into this Christ of history and faith who lives in and through you. Embrace His authority and guidance to give your life an ‘inner resolve’. Use your gifts and talents to give voice to those things that move the heart of God. Step out.

My spiritual director was telling me. "You’ve been in a better place. You don’t serve anyone well when you go small. Recapture the fire. Live into the possibilities God has set before you. Go for it."

God’s using my spiritual director to get my attention.

As a teacher and writer I know that God uses the ordinary stuff of life to talk to us in redemptive ways. Sometimes it's people directly speaking into our lives. Sometimes it's what someone writes or how they treat you.

Maybe God is using these words to get your attention. Maybe one of you needs to recapture his/her ‘inner authority’.

So, what will you do? Do you listen to the voice of God that’s whispering in your ear? Will you seek Him with all of your heart, mind, soul, and strength? Or will you follow the track that’s getting you lost and putting your heart in jeopardy?

Of course, those are the questions I’m asking myself. And I am listening. I will seek Him. I want my heart to be healthy, my responses Godly, my intent to be purposeful.

Hold me accountable to all this, huh?