Thursday, October 29, 2009


As many of you know I like to observe this world of ours. Wherever I’ve traveled I’ve found people to be remarkably similar even though circumstances, economics and social environments are different. At our core we are made in the image and likeness of a good God. No culture is perfect. No group of people is without sin or potential.

My world is getting turned a little upside down and then up again. I’m working both in an under resourced community and in an abundantly resourced community. One in the city. The other in the suburbs. Here’s some initial observations. I offer them as someone learning the ropes in the city and certainly lacking the experience and insight of my more knowledgeable colleagues. And I offer observations as someone who has spent a fair amount of time in the burbs, enjoying the comforts, people, and advantages it provides.

At Breakthrough, in the city, there’s a deep, driving desire to empower people to break free from poverty, addiction, and isolation. At Christ Church, in the suburbs, we want to see people live lives of worship, growth and service. Both want to see people become disciples and live into their God given potential.

It doesn’t take long to realize that in under resourced neighborhoods poverty smacks you alongside the head every time you turn around. Living in a recessionary time only adds to the problem. Addictions to alcohol and drugs tear down lives and can block the development of badly needed hope and becomes an economic engine that actually stalls community development.. When you don’t have hope it’s hard to believe in the promise of a new day and when you see no visible signs of community improvement spirits can take a nosedive. Those who stay in isolation or keep on returning to it lag behind in their healing. And yet there is healing. There are many who look to God, love magnanimously, serve unselfishly and take every opportunity to grow and learn.

At Christ Church, in the suburbs, we don’t see much back breaking poverty although we see people who are being rudely treated by the recession. Coping is difficult for those who had much and now find themselves overextended and in striking distance of losing just about everything. It’s especially hard for anyone addicted to feeding an affluent lifestyle and expecting nothing but the best. It's hard to believe that less might be more and what's left might be more than enough.

For sure, many in the affluent suburbs turn to drugs and alcohol in the cruel belief that what they ingest will make them feel better. And because those in the suburbs are adept at hiding both faults and fears isolation is something that becomes the enemy of Christian community. And like the urban neighborhood there are many committed to the high road and striving to make a difference. Faith is real. Growth is apparent.

City and suburb. Poor and wealthy. Hopeful and hopeless. In each you will find people worshipping, growing in remarkable ways, and serving others. And in each you will see those struggling with issues related to money, addiction, and isolation. One big difference is that the people of the suburb have resources, access and clout. The suburbs have dreams aplenty and the ability to achieve them. For many in the city dreams are alive but resources are scant. Suburban communities expect success and excellence and can’t understand why others can’t achieve what they’ve achieved.

I think it was Mother Theresa who said that when she worked with the poor she saw Jesus in a most distressing disguise. If only I had the same eyes. I wonder if the poor, looking at me and you, also don't see a distressing disguise. And that we need them to point that disguise out to us, stripping it of its power over us?

Probably because I still carry residual idealism from the sixties but more importantly because I believe in this whole biblical notion of the Body of Christ I believe that we can learn from both worlds and from each other. Actually, if we don’t we’re in trouble. So then,

Can the poor teach the rich how to trust God in the midst of adversity?
Can an addict from the city sit down with the alcoholic from the suburb and be wounded healers each for the other?
Can the resource rich figure out ways to walk with the resource poor in ways that aren’t condescending?
Can city and suburbs find ways to worship, grow, and serve together?
Is it important to know each other’s story? If yes, how do we allow that to happen and give it permission to impact our lives?
Is our connection as ‘people of God’ stronger than our inclination to stay close to those who look like us?
How do those with clout and access use those things to better the lives of others?
How do we move beyond stereotype and preconception to really see the person?

My deep fear is that those things dividing us will determine our action and resolve. Maybe the better way is to see ourselves as God sees us. We are His children. All of us. If we really believed it, I wonder what kind of difference that could make?

Friday, October 23, 2009

Simple Compassion

After I read Keri Wyatt Kent's recent book I wrote to her saying

"Keri, this book really packs a punch. I can think of a whole lot of folks who'd throw it against the wall wondering why they picked up a book written by a 'feminist, egalitarian, social justice oriented, probably a democrat, Willow Creeker?"

The truth is that description might actually scare some folks away. Maybe some of you reading it. That would be too bad. You see, Keri is also someone I'd call 'thoughtfully orthodox'. All the way through these devotions you'll see a woman trying her best to be more and more like Christ in today's world. She's biblically solid and wants to find out what an informed faith does with issues like fair trade, caring for the least of these, standard of living, diversity, etc. She pokes and prods, lays out her own issues and will challenge you to think about yours.

Bottom line. I think if folks really go through this book devotionally, prayerfully and then read it again with others, allowing the Holy Spirit to work in their hearts What could happen? Lives would change. Hearts would soften. Eyes opened. New habits would need to be cultivated. Keri raises important issues for us as Christians. Although this book is geared towards women I found it hitting home for me in a variety of ways. Keri pretty masterfully raises issues that are vital to our understanding of how to live as Christ followers in today's world. She helps put compassion into a biblical framework that goes beyond just 'do something'.

Keri also understands the world of the suburban working mom. She doesn't pretend to have it all together. She's trying to figure out how to weave compassion in and through a life that's pretty full. But to Keri compassion isn't just an add on, another thing to do. She's trying to make compassion central to our understanding of the the 'good news' we all desire to live into and proclaim.

So, for what it's worth ...I think this is a 'dangerous' book. Read it. Talk about it. Apply it.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Step Into the Future

I’ve written and spoken on the whole issue of ‘change’ at pretty consistent intervals. My take is that change is inevitable and that too much resistance to the whole notion just throws our lives and the lives of those closest to us into upheaval. Change doesn’t necessarily have to become our friend but at the very least we have to look at change as being a potential ally, not always an enemy.

I’m in the midst of change. If you read my blog regularly you know that I decided to make a fairly significant adjustment to my ministry and income. Of course, it wasn’t a decision made by myself. Anita was on board and other wise people were invited to chime in. God, I believed, was asking me to step out of the boat and onto the water.

It’s interesting. Despite the call of God, despite the confirmation by other people of faith, and the firm assurances of my wife/best friend I find myself with a variety of conflicting emotions after actually living in the worlds of urban ministry and suburban church for just a few days.

Here’s what happening. I’m out of my comfort zone, away from patterns of how best to use time, thrust into a brand new world where I don’t know the personalities, the humor, and the history of relationships. In addition my interaction patterns with colleagues and ministry partners within the church are being altered. And to be honest it’s all a bit disconcerting. Not bad. In most ways, expected. But it’s different. It’s going to take awhile to figure things out, to know my place, to become a value added, and to find the right rhythm.

If anything, the first few days have led to a healthy place of ‘brokenness’. There’s this realization that there’s a lot I don’t have much control over. It’s like God is doing something to re-form me. That’s encouraging. It means God isn’t done with me yet. He still sees the possibilities for my life.

One of the interesting pieces of the puzzle is that I feel like I’m in the midst of a spiritual battle. There’s been a fair amount of e-mail, phone calls, and discussion lately that have been difficult and to be honest – somewhat discouraging. The Enemy has consistently used discouragement over the years to take the wind out of my sails and have me question the value of my ministry and my call. The good news is that I know this. Even writing these words strengthens my resolve because I know who I battle and the tactics aren’t unfamiliar.

Now, I know this is a bit melancholy. Don’t worry. I’m OK. I believe that God didn’t call me with the intent to hurt me. No, I think he wants to use me still in both the church that still supports me and the urban ministry that will help shape the next chapter of my life.

I find it fascinating that whenever I step into change how much really happens inside me as I make the outside transition. It’s a reminder to give thanks for the good work God has already done in me. And it’s a heads up to my ego when I come to the realization that there is so much more God wants to do. I think that means that He’s still rather fond of me.

So, the step into my future has begun. Let’s see what God does with all of this, huh?

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Releasing Dreams

Went for a bike ride today. Climbing an overpass I noticed ahead of me what looked like a photographer, with a large tripod, and oversized camera snapping pictures of the highway below. When I got closer I realized that the camera was actually a small boy, perched on a ledge, with dad serving as a sturdy support. Dad was pointing out all kinds of highway things to his son who was taking it all in. In some ways, the child was like a camera, snapping pictures that would help him remember an adventure with dad.

After I passed I realized that, for sure, my eyesight is getting worse but I was struck by the poignancy of the moment. Dad was doing what good dads do. He was creating memories, passing on information, and loving his child. In a small way, on this Sunday afternoon, dad was preparing his son for a time in the not too distant future to do the same with his own son.

At the same time I was watching and riding I was listening to my iod. It was a sermon given at Willow Creek Community Church. It was by Wayne Cordeiro, a pastor from Hawaii. He was talking about having people in our life who are ‘dream releasers’.

Just like God instills in a parents heart a desire to pass on what he knows to his son and daughter so to does God instill in our hearts a need to dream dreams. We suffer when they are not released.

Cordeiro talked about cemetaries. He says they’re full of unrealized potential and the shells of dreams that were never lived out. He wonders if our goal in life is to leave this world 'empty', leaving none of our potential behind. I think he's right. What if we all decided to leave nothing behind, no dream unexplored, no talent underutilized and no possibility unexplored? What would happen? To us. To those we meet. To those we love.

It occurs to me that Jesus wants us to be ‘dream releasers’. Jesus walked the highways and byways to release people from the sin that bound them and to release them to the possibilities of what life lived with ‘Him’ could be. By releasing them, he freed them. To dream. To live into their potential. To make a difference.

What if we’re supposed to be ‘dreamers’? And what if God wants to use us to help release the dreams of others?

Just like a father pointing out ‘stuff’ from high atop a highway so do we have an opportunity to ask the right question, give the gentle encouragement, to call forth the unrealized potential from every person we meet.

Every been around a ‘dream releaser’? Someone who calls forth the best of your life? Someone who challenges you out of the status quo and into God’s best? It’s incredible. It’s that coach who made you think no one could stop you. It’s the boss who gives you the big project because she believes you’re ready for it. It’s the pastor who asks you to teach because he senses something in the quality of your life. It’s anyone who gives us a chance to be more than what we thought we could be even though the deep desires of our hearts yearned for the opportunity.

Dream releasers are in short supply. It’s a shame. We need more of them. In a world that’s buckling down to just ‘get through it all’ we need dream releasers who are called forth to help us believe in possibilities again.

You see, if we don’t believe in the ‘dream’ we’re going to end up dying with all kinds of unrealized potential and possibility. What a waste. And how many wasted lives have you encountered? Be honest. Too many, right? Way too many.

God has us perched on the edge of the highway of His dream. He’s supporting us. He’s also pointing out all the comings and goings of humankind. He knows what He’s planted deep in our hearts. He’s calling it out. He’s pointing out where our life can intersect with someone else’s. He’s showing us the possibilities. He wants His dream to come true ...on earth as it is in heaven

Want in?

Monday, October 12, 2009


Linking my blog to Facebook has been a fascinating experience. All 600+ friends are alerted when I write something. Some are encouraged. Others not so much. I do get feedback. Some I like. Other times not so much.

Here’s 34 things I’ve learned as a blogger and Facebooker.

1. Anything political gets a response.
2. Conservatives are the first to engage.
3. Graceless engagement stops others from participating.
4. People with strong opinions usually are the most graceless.
5. Liberals use questions more than conservatives.
6. Both liberals and conservatives get testy when their thinking is challenged.
7. A lot of people don’t know how to express themselves in writing.
8. We love to label people.
9. Christians, for the most part, have a narrow view of who they are and what God really intends.
10. I get the impression that punditainers do a lot of the heavy lifting for people.
11. People deny that they’re influenced by punditainers but then quote one of them as a defense.
12. There’s a lot of meanness in cyber space.
13. We’ve lost the art of healthy, written interchange.
14. Anything tongue in cheek gets lost in translation.
15. There’s a very sick, over the top conservatism, that’s alive and well that scares me.
16. There’s a very sick, over the top liberalism, that’s alive and well that scares me.
17. I saw a web site yesterday of Patriot Christians and I was afraid, very afraid.
18. Some people are really trying to figure it all out. Too many think they already have.
19. I think faith is at best the ‘wallpaper’ on the walls of most people’s life and not the foundation it should be.
20. The church is losing its influence.
21. We’re not reading much anymore that has length and substance and nuance.
22. People are busy but not too busy to spend an inordinate time on Facebook.
23. People will watch a five minute video but won’t read an entire blog entry or an entire article.
24. Whole bunches of people believe they’re Mafia crime bosses.
25. There is a whole lot of incredibly wonderful people with fascinating insights on things.
26. Social networking is here to stay. What an interesting way to stay in touch. It doesn’t beat face to face though.
27. I can’t figure out how social networking pays for itself.
28. People post some very cool stuff.
29. Name calling is considered an intelligent argument.
30. Why would anyone use curse words as part of a Facebook status?
31. I have some very regular contributors to posts who challenge my thinking and allow me to challenge them. They’ve given me insights that prove to be helpful.
32. We don’t get satire anymore. That’s sad.
33. We’ve lost respect for leaders.
34. Too many don't have a diversity of friendships. The people they interact with think and act exactly like them. So, how can they be ever wrong?

Feel free to add to the list. Would love to hear what you've learned and experienced.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009


A few years ago I visited an old prison in Armenia. It was a jail that once housed St. Gregory the Illuminator, the patron saint of Armenia. The prison wasn’t in use but we were able to descend to his cell. It was windowless, it was damp, it was well below ground level and for those of us who were claustrophobic it was an impossible place.

Ancient prisons were difficult places. For that matter so are modern prisons. And so it’s interesting that the apostle Paul writes from prison and says “I’ve learned how to be content.” Phillipians

Paul believed that contentment is an ‘inside-out’ thing. Psychologists agree with Paul, by the way. They’re always trying to get their clients to develop and internal locus of control not an external one.

You see, we live in a world that believes contentment moves from the outside and then in. That’s why we try to control our circumstances whenever we can. I know that I do better when the weather is good, the sky is blue and there’s nothing but clear sailing on the horizon. I’ve discovered that when the outside influences are going well…

When my relationships are strong.
When health is good.
When work is satisfying.
When there’s enough money in the bank to pay the bills
When the to-do list is doable
When my sports teams are winning
When the weather is great
When I feel God’s blessing more than His discipline … then life is good.

I feel content. Until a wheel falls off. Until a relationship goes south or work isn’t satisfying or when the Cubs miss the playoff and then I can get a little disgruntled, no longer at peace, discontented. And wheels fall off all the time. Every day. Despite my best efforts (and believe me I try) I can't control my circumstances. Only my response to them.

What’s out there determines my mood. But it’s the most unreliable guide for contentment.

I think contentment in today’s world is hard to come by. People are dissatisfied, anxious, and agitated in almost epic proportions. Discontentment is the cultural game and it bleeds into our lives. Outside in doesn’t work.

Paging through the New Testament the apostle Paul writes to the Church in Phillipi. He writes from prison and he pens these words.

… for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little.

I have learned how to be content. I’ve learned the secret.

For Paul, the secret is the deep belief that God began and continued a good work in him. It’s this deep conviction that ‘he could do anything and everything through Christ who gave him strength.’ Paul believed that his inner Holy Spirit driven spiritual compass and constant companion, Jesus. could keep him on course and at peace despite the circumstances of his life.

It’s what’s inside that counts.

I bow to circumstance far too often. Maybe you do too.

How’s that working for you? I know, for me, it doesn’t work well at all.

Today, I received two e-mails. Let's just say the words pierced deep, wounding. No fun. Also had a doctor's appointment. His assessment. Get thin or else.

So, the weight of circumstance is huge. Daggers to my ego, my abilities, and longevity. Almost everything in me wants to run, hide, and escape. Almost everything. Thankfully, there's a current of peace and contentment running through me. It reminds me that bad days happen. This too shall pass. Circumstances are out of our control. Our response isn't.

So, riding that current of peace and contentment is vital. It reminds me that God is in control. It doesn't mean that I don't heed my doctor's instructions or seek to reconcile with the e-mailers or look carefully at the issues raised. No, that wouldn't be God's best for me. Contentment can't be fed by avoidance. But in the midst of 'pressing in' God wants me to find the current of his peace.

God's best means I give Him permission to keep working in and through my life. To have him complete that good work He started in me long ago.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Do Not Disturb

I’ve seen people with a lot of different kind of hearts.

Kind hearts. Open hearts. Care-free hearts. Sincere hearts. Broken hearts. Selfish hearts.

And I see hearts that don’t want to be open for business especially business with God. And so what people do is put up a ‘do not disturb’ sign on the door of their heart. It’s designed to keep God from walking in. It’s designed to keep certain others out. Unfortunately, the back door of their heart is often wide open letting all kinds of things both in and out…often things we know God wouldn’t be happy about. So, we deny Him entrance while our heart jumps into trouble, causing greating damage.

When we do this …when we put this big ‘do not disturb sign up’ we end up not valuing our heart, not protecting it, and we let the enemy have access to it. It happens more often than we realize.

We live in a fascinating culture. We want what we want when we want it and we want it fast. We want faith but not too much of it. Writer Wilbur Reese I think captures the dominant religious sentiment of this age. Actually it’s been the dominant religious sentiment always.

I would 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 don't want enough of him to make me love a black man or pick beets with a migrant.
I want ecstasy,
Not transformation.
I want the warmth of the womb not a new birth.
I want about a pound of the eternal
In a paper sack.
I'd like to buy three dollars' worth of God, please.

We want enough God to satisfy some low level spiritual desires but not enough to disturb what he really wants to do with my heart. Enough religion so that we’re in control. Enough to make us feel good. But not enough to transform us. Don’t disturb me God. Don’t alter my plans. At least not long term.

We settle for a little when God wants to give us everything. We want God on our terms not his. God wants to walk into our heart and love on it. He wants to help us clean it up, clear up the cobwebs, help our heart to beat stronger and truer.

And we say ‘don’t disturb my heart like that’. I’m doing fine. And God, because He is gracious and wise, lets us learn from our failures and live with consequences of our actions. But it breaks His heart.

In the gospel of Luke Jesus is asked by the Pharisees. Why do you spend so much time with sinners? What’s that all about? Let me put this in a context we might understand.

Have you ever been around people so religious, so holier than thou, so judgmental that you just can’t win when you’re around them. They’re so tight that they squeak. That’s the Pharisees. And the only place they can find Jesus is at places they detest, with people they want to distance themselves from. And so they find Jesus, let’s say, in the local tavern where there’s drinking, spitting, some cursing and loud music. It's filled with sinful people. And they want to know why Jesus is there. And they ask point blank ..."Why do you do this’? Why are you here with them?"

Jesus responds with three stories. One is about a lost sheep, one is about a lost coin, the third about a lost person.

The story of the lost human is the good news in capsule form. It’s a story of two brothers and a father. The younger son walks away from His father. Walks away from relationship and home. Walks towards a rebellious future. Walk into moral trouble. He is self centered.He thumbs his nose at his family, their people & their traditions.

He put a ‘Do not disturb’ sign on his heart out and walks away, turning his back on everything that is important.

If you’d ask the younger brother I’m sure he’d say “I’m just following my heart.” It’s interesting whenever someone says that you know they’re past the point of listening to reason. It’s their way of saying “I’m going to do it my way”. Don’t try to stop me.

We’ve all done it.

Sometimes ‘following our heart’ is a good thing. I think I’m following my heart by going to work with Breakthrough Ministries. I think it’s a God thing, confirmed by godly people.

But how many times have I followed my heart to something that wasn’t godly, wasn’t good, wasn’t noble, wasn’t uplifting. How many times have I decided to do my own thing. Slapped a do not disturb sign on the door of my heart and went my own way. Probably about as many times as you have.

Basically, what happened is that the younger son finds himself in a boatload of moral, financial, and relational trouble. He comes to a hard conclusion and says … “I’m wrong. I need to go back to Dad.”

When he does that He takes the do not disturb sign off the door of his heart and is willing to have happen what needs to happen. But he's confident that the worse that his dad could offer him was far better than what he was experiencing.

And so he turns his heart towards home. The scripture account is fascinating.

So he got up and went to his father. "But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. "The son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.'

"But the father said to his servants, 'Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let's have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.' So they began to celebrate.

Jesus, in telling this story was looking people straight in the eye and telling them in no uncertain terms. It’s never too late. Someone can turn his heart from God and when He turns back God is there. By the way, the visual of this father hitching up his robes and running to embrace a sinful, disrespectful son was huge for Jesus’ audience. That’s not what a ‘wealthy man’ did …not when his son walked away from the family. It would have been out of place in his cultural framework. But Jesus was making a huge point. Finding what was lost and celebrating his coming home is more important than breaking cultural rules.

Sometimes in the movies you hear that phrase “You are now dead to me. You no longer exist” and the father walks away. That’s what many people probably wished the the father in the story would have done. They'd love it it he turned his back on the prodigal or at the very least ‘let him have it’. And then, in the end, give him not all of his love and affection…only $3 worth of it.

But Jesus was hammering home his ‘big idea’. That’s not what God does. You can’t buy $3 worth of Him. You get it all.

What this younger son did is tear the ‘do not disturb’ sign off the door of the heart and turn it around to say ‘please clean this up’. A selfish heart became a repentant heart and a gracious Father sees him coming, picks up his robe, greets him with a hug and a kiss and immediately makes plans to throw a lavish party.

That’s what our hearts yearn for. To be connected to our Father, to the one who loves us. Who wants our heart to beat strong, to beat long, a heart true and connected to Him.

And so the answer to the Pharisees question "Why do you do the things that you do?“ is an easy one. Jesus says "I’m here for the lost. Nothing can separate them from my love." And the Pharisees never understood it. Never got it. Their hearts were hard. They missed it.

Why? Because they couldn’t put themselves into this story. They couldn’t see their own brokenness, their own selfishness, their own betrayal of God, their own squandering of resources. They couldn’t see themselves in the younger brother. They thought they were good and so couldn’t put themselves into the repentant posture of the prodigal son. They couldn’t see that they too have lost everything and need God’s healing embrace. They just couldn’t understand. Hopefully, we do.

There's a Spanish story of a father and son who had become estranged. The son ran away, and the father set off to find him. He searched for months to no avail. Finally, in a last desperate effort to find him, the father put an ad in a Madrid newspaper. The ad read: “Dear Paco, Meet me in front of this newspaper office at noon on Saturday. All is forgiven. I love you. Your Father.” On Saturday, 800 Pacos showed up, looking for forgiveness and love from their fathers.

That’s God. Jesus writes on the newspaper called our heart. Come home. Take the do not disturb sign off you heart.

All is forgiven. I love you. Dad.