Tuesday, June 28, 2011


It's a good number. 61. It's my birthday today. I'm thankful for so many having already expressed birthday greetings. Six decades of life.

There are times when I have stood in front of a group of people preaching, or walked the streets of Jerusalem or the village paths in the bush of Africa, or sat in a room with a whole lot of folks who look different from myself and wonder how a little kid from northern Wisconsin ever got to this place in life. Why have I been so blessed?

For sure there have been rocky moments. The divorce was no fun. The heart attack was scary. Dealing with my own particular inner demons has been challenging. I've failed to follow through on a few things and disappointed more than a few people. There are those I've hurt and wounded. Not good.

There have been more than a few dashed dreams and false starts. I never became the second baseman for the Milwaukee Braves, nor charted that career in politics. All early ambitions.

I did get to father great children, start some ministries that have helped people, found Anita ( the love of my life), have known and know truly interesting people, have a platform to express thoughts and ideas and relatively speaking have traveled pretty widely. I've written three books and a few articles and still have wide ranging friendships with people of all ages. I have lived in Wisconsin, Minnesota,
California, Nevada and Illinois. I've been blessed.

Because I consider myself to be middle aged I wonder what the next half of my life will bring. :) At 122 I wonder what blessings I'll be counting. Here's what I pray:

That the Lord will continue to allow me to be involved in significant ministry.
That I can use the advantage of age and experience to build into the lives of those younger.
That the book or four bubbling inside of me will get written.
That I will resist the sense of 'entitlement' that is so pervasive with my generation,
That I might see Israel again (with a side trip to Rome)
That I might visit South Africa.
That I can relish living in a culture that provides so many opportunities to roll up my sleeves.
That I never get stuck in thinking the 'old ways' are the only ways.
That God can use me to help my grandchildren fall in love with Jesus and find places to be people of significant impact.
That Anita and I can figure out that speaking ministry we can do together.
That my 'Johnnies' can win another national championship or two.
That I might live a life of deep joy and significance.
That I live long enough to see East Garfield Park transformed.
That God will continue to use me to link city to the burbs.
That I might grow deep in my relationship with Jesus.

There's more for sure. But more than anything else, I desire to wake up each day with great expectation that God has something of significance for me to live into.

So far it's been an interesting life. But it's not over. Can't wait for what's next. Thanks for all of you who have been part of the ride so far. You have been good to me. Can't wait to see who God brings into my life in the years ahead and the adventures I'll be allowed to be part of. God is good. All the time. All the time. God is good

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Books and Stuff

I've finished reading "The Jesuit Guide to Just about Everything" by James Martin SJ. It's a truly wonderful read. Well worth your time and energy. However, if you don't like to think and if you are bound and determined to believe your way is the only way then, for sure, pick this book up. It might help you grow beyond the narrow confines of your theological thinking. Don't we all need that?

Somewhere in the book Martin talks about community. He speaks of a friend who believes these three principles will help us both build and live in community.

Understand you're not God.
This world of ours is not heaven.
Don't be an ass.

That's about as succinct as one can get. How many times has community been ruined by God complexes, bad behavior, and idealism?

Speaking of books. My wife is the host of Midday Connection on the Moody Radio Network. Periodically, They have a book club. This time the Moody professor who helps host the club picked the book "Dracula". It's been interesting reading the Facebook comments. There's a whole segment of folks that are pretty frustrated with the choice. It stretches their paradigm of what constitutes acceptable literature. They can't wrap their arms around so called 'secular' books having thoughtful and redemptive content. A few skeptical women have chosen to read the book. They can't put it down. Their eyes are being opened.

In all honesty I haven't read it yet either but did download it to my Kindle today. It was free. What can I say? Perhaps I need my paradigms rocked a bit.

My friend and colleague at Breakthrough Urban Ministries, Arloa Sutter, wrote a book called "The Invisible". It's a book about noticing those we often choose to ignore. It's a great read. What's cool is that the study guide was just released. It's perfect for small group discussions and will help prod your thinking about biblical justice issues. Arloa lives out her faith in quite remarkable ways. Check out her web site http://arloasutter.com/

Along the same lines my buddy John Green recently released his book called "Streetwalking with Jesus". John has a ministry to male prostitutes. He's the real deal. I recommend his book and his ministry. www.streets.org

I'm convinced my wife' s book "What Women Tell Me" can help lead a whole lot of women to the freedom they're seeking. Anita (Lustrea) doesn't pull many punches as she talks about God's amazing work in her life. Some real hot topics are covered. She lays it on the line. Perfect for a small group study. www.anitalustrea.com

Finally, check out the Redbud Writers Guild http://www.redbudwritersguild.com/. This is a group of amazing Christian women who are writing fearlessly about issues that matter.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Dad Day

I won't be with my children this fathers day. The timing didn't work quite well enough this year. But it's not about the particular day or the gifts as we all know.

Looking back, I sometimes wish I could have been more. That I wasn't enough. That my quirks of personality and emphasis somehow overshadowed what was going on in my heart. But there are no do overs. And actually I'm quite OK with that.

My heart overflows with love for my children. It's quite unexplainable actually. It's not that clingy, velcro type of love. I always thought that my role was to prepare them to live into their God given potential. To free them and not bind them. To bless them, not dominate them. Sometimes I did these things well. Occasionally, I stumbled. Always, though, I meant well even in the regrettable times.

I always thought my kids would be alright if they loved Jesus with all of their being and lived that belief out in grace filled, thoughtful ways wherever God planted them. That still remains my greatest ongoing hope. My prayer is that they will never just settle for the American Dream for taken to an extreme there is an inherent selfishness in all of that. There's more that they are created for. Gloriously more. I pray that they will never settle for some cheap, cultural, trinket God who doesn't really exist.

Like many these days our family has been fractured by divorce. That's always difficult even in the most amicable situations. What was intended no longer is possible. A new definition of family emerges. Doable certainly but not without it's awkward challenges. On days dedicated to dads one feels the pain of the brokenness.

I look at my children and see all kinds of things. I especially see the possibilities before them. What lives will they continue to touch? What risks will they be willing to take? Will they look for Jesus at the intersections of life? Will they be the creators of authentic community? Will they wrestle with the deep issues of life? Will they love their own children in their own quirky ways that will remind them of their own father and his eccentricities?

I love my children and their children. More deeply than I think they know. May you forever know you are loved.

Friday, June 17, 2011


Have opinions but don't be mean spirited.

Let's face it..  The tone of civil discourse in our world has reached pretty scary heights.  Like little children at the playground politicians and regular citizens hurl ugly insults at one another thinking that the mean spiritedness is going to win people over.  Go figure.

Live simply.

We have too much.  More than we need.  We're living for our wants and that keeps us from seeing the needs of others.  That's not OK.  Ever.

Be holy forsaking self righteousness.

Live like God is real and He will transform your life.  No need to be showy about it all.  Love, grow, worship and serve like crazy. Hold captive your Inner Pharisee.

Be curious.

There's a big world out there. Lots to know about.  Avoid living in the center of someone else's opinion.  What are you discovering?  

Be interesting.

Dullness is avoidable. Care about what is going on around you.  Listen for understanding.  Argue with consideration.  Have considered opinions.  Read.  Listen to opposing viewpoints. Ask questions.

Be involved.

Find the intersect where your giftedness and a need exists.  Jump in. Make a difference.  It's not about you all the time. Honest.  Open your eyes to God sized possibilities.

Avoid labels.

Dig beneath the stereotype.  Sometimes you'll find the label fits. More often you'll find a degree of complexity and wonder that might just impact your life.

Live into the adventure.

There are too many bored people out there. Are you one of them?  Seriously, are you once of them?  

It's all a slippery slope.

The life of faith is lived on a slippery slope much of the time. It kind of bugs me when people say "Well, that puts us on a slippery slope.". Life does that.  Faith does that. It's on the slope where decisions have to be made and faith exercised.  The slippery slope doesn't have to represent a slide downward.  It can still be climbed.  And who knows ... Maybe God wants us to slip and slide a bit because we're climbing the wrong hill. 

Live in such a winsome  way that others will want to gossip about you.

That means you're a bit out of step with the prevailing culture.  You care about the deeper things in life. You don't care about keeping up with someone else.  You've got a different agenda for your life and a whole lot of folks won't understand it but will certainly want to talk about it.      

Practice sensing the presence of God in the present moment.

My spiritual director reminds me that this is the key to the life of faith.  Each moment contains  'enough' and the present moment is all we're currently promised.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Brain Blurts/June

I've been watching the beginnings of the next election for POTUS. Why am I underwhelmed? Perhaps it's seeing the same words being repeated over and over again and the groundwork being laid for what could be become a pretty nasty primary season. No one seems to want to give in, give up, listen to and/or reason with the other.

I'm reading a terrific book called "The Jesuit Guide to Almost Everything". James Martin SJ is a terrific writer. He reminds me that wonderful things happened in the faith long before the Reformation. And even after the Reformation God has used a variety of streams of spirituality to both inform and renew the others. Not all Martin says sits well with me but that's OK. I need to wrestle with such things. But forthe most part I'm being enriched by the challenge to go deeper and be deeper.

In the back of my mind a sermons is developing. It's about 'sin'. That's a topic I don't have to do a whole lot of research on. I'm an all pro already. It's not a favorite topic for many. Who wants to feel guilty, huh? Guilt, though, is underestimated as a force for spiritual renewal.

Doing some research about the Pharisees recently, I came to the conclusion that 'I is one'. That shook me a bit. I can slice and dice with the best of them. I'm reminded of a story about W.C. Fields. He was discovered back stage thumbing through a bible. He looked up and said, "Don't worry. I'm just looking for loopholes.". That's what we all do. We're always looking for the loophole, something that will allow us to slide through, under or around our call to obedience. And if we can't find one we'll create one.

Around the 4th of July I begin to get a barrage of emails about patriotism. First of all, I'm all for well placed patriotism. I'm blessed to live in the USA. And I am thankful. I'm not enamored with blind patriotism however. And I cannot place God and country in equal positions. God trumps country every time. We forget that all too often. My deep desire is that Americans would find their way to the true God of true Gods. It's been said that America will remain good as long as it's people are good. I think all too often we are guilty of serving a god of our own creation. That god aligns itself along political and class lines. It's not the real God. Our political and social alignments turn us inward, serving ourselves and not others. That selfishness is not good and has disastrous consequences for our culture.

Still wondering how much of the Obama bashing in our culture is motivated by race but is disguised as something else? Not saying that his policies shouldn't be scrutinized and challenged. Just growing increasingly concerned about race issues and the unwillingness of folks to come to grips with their own feelings and prejudices.

Had a conversation with an older guy the other day. He goes to a church that has 23 members. They are trying to save the church building. I asked him if they ever thought about thinking a bit more missionally and actually building the church. Didn't get a great answer.

I'm writing all this seated next to a roaring fire. I'm 'up north' as we say in the Midwest. The sun is trying to sneak through. I'm only a few steps away from a lake. No agenda today. Eventually, I'll hop on my bike or climb into a kayak. There's something about being in the midst of the Creation that renews my strength and brings me back to the basics of life. The frantic push of everyday life saps me at times. God gives me glimpses into what could be every now and then nudging me to a better way for my life.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Doing relationships

Last weekend I helped celebrate the birthday of a very dear friend. It was a great party filled with reunions with old friends and meeting new folks. My friend and his wife have an extraordinary ability to keep making new friendships and still nurture old relationships.

The birthday boy helped save my life. At a particularly difficult point in my journey he refused to allow me to go through it alone. His attitude, his faith, his demeanor and his laughter helped provide a relational structure that gave birth to some deep healing. At the right time God provided me what I needed by providing me with the gift of a 'friend'.

Last week I talked on the phone with another man who by his own admission knows nothing of friendship. He knows of no one he can turn to in the midst of some pretty painful stuff. As a pastor I hear stories like this all the time and wonder about the relational poverty that is at the heart of so many people's experience. Too many are too lonely. And that loneliness can give way to a seclusion that is unhealthy. Either that or folks settle for shallow relationships in shallow places. Just hang around a bar during happy hour some week night. You'll see some surprisingly good things but you'll also be driven to tears as you watch folks try to fill deep holes with all kinds of things that aren't filling or fulfilling.

What makes some people relationship rich and others relationship poor?

Some people have a broken people picker which leads leads them to people who have no clue about how to bond with another person. The result is that they end up feeling relationally cheated and oftentimes used.

I find that those rich in relationships don't surround themselves with people who believe exactly what they believe. They feel safe with a diversity of opinion and expression. That's rare these days.

Relationship rich people might have strong opinions and convictions but they don't expect others to nod in agreement towards them. Healthy people actually like to debate.

Relationally healthy folks are interesting. They read. They care. They invest. Most people I know who are struggling relationally aren't very interesting. They parrot what others say and can't articulate anything significant that comes from some authoritative place deep inside of them.

As a Christian I can't afford to neglect the relationally needy. It's antithetical to the good news I proclaim. As much as I'd like to turn my back on the relationally dysfunctional at times the Spirit of God beckons me to walk towards them and not away. And in all honesty there are times when I struggle with that.

Not so long ago I was in a needy place. It would have been easy for people to walk away. And some did. Thankfully, not all. God used those who picked me up to help heal my life.

It's easy to love the lovable. It's not so easy to love the prickly and the damaged.

Open our eyes, Lord. Open our hearts. Give us all partners for the journey. Stretch us to see others the way you do. And may our lives be open to those who might require extra grace.