Thursday, July 28, 2011

I Guess This is Goodbye.

I guess this is goodbye. If I'm reading the sign of the times right then everything changes on August 2. The debt ceiling, budget crunch, cap, save and spend debate will officially slap all of us across the back of the head on that fateful day and those lucky enough to die in the next few days will be the blessed ones.

Deep breath people. Deep breath. One more.

Here's my prediction. We'll all still be here on August 3 no matter what happens. The USA will still exist. We won't implode. But we will have to make some fixes. My biggest fear is that the digging in everyone is doing is going to become the new normal. If that's true then we're in bigger doo doo than we even suspect, And it's not economic as much as it is about character.

Here's some thoughts.

1. Please Mr. and Ms. Congressperson take your name off any and all pledges of any kind. Both liberals and conservatives ....just purge your "I have to or I won't get reelected accounts". We count on you to think on your feet and have a willingness to flex every now and again. We know you put pen to paper to curry favor with the zealots supporting you but remember you're supposed to be representing all the people.

2. Please Mr. And Ms. America do us all a favor and at least consider points of view different than your own. Whew. We're talking fatal tunnel vision afflicting good portions of our population.

3. All of us. Let's think of the common good instead of what's only going to be good for us and our particular tribe.

4. Think win-win because this lose-lose and win-lose nonsense is killing us.

5. Remember that the economic mess we're in is the result of some really bad choices over a number of years by a whole lot of political administrations.

6. The mess is ours to own because our leaders gave us what we wanted. We felt entitled to more and we got it.

7.  Everyone ask themselves the question "Is there any possibility I could be wrong? If yes, vote in the next election. If no, think about sitting one out.

8.  If you're reading this and you're a person of faith remind yourself that the Lord of your life is supposed to be Jesus and not a political ideology. Seriously. I'm a pastor. That's what it says in the scripture. Honest.

9. Ask yourself. "Am I really governable?" If that's true you can't get your own way all the time.

If nothing else, this time of crisis demands taking stock of ourselves, what we believe at the very core of our beings, and our own behaviors. If enough of us did that the we'd be on the way to discovering the opportunities before us. Perhaps, we'd even be putting an end to a good share of the melodrama that is tying our country in knots.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Norway and more

What happened in Norway stunned us all. It shakes us to our core. It reminds us of Columbine, Virginia Tech, and Northern Illinois. We wonder about motivation and question why authorities didn't see this coming. And we quietly mourn the loss of innocent life. How does this happen?

I don't know. What snaps in a person's concept of right and wrong that validates something so horrendous? How have we failed the perpetrator I wonder? Or did we?

The problem of evil in our midst perplexes me. Even though I know about sin and temptation and the concept of garbage in/garbage out, and the lure of self righteousness I sometimes just want to throw my head in my hands and weep. Can we ever win against determined hatred? And why does God allow such evil to even exist?

We could throw in the towel you know and say enough is enough. We could isolate ourselves and retreat to underground bunkers in Idaho or to double gated communities. Or we can face our fears, pray through our questions and frustrations, and begin to stand up for the sake of righteousness (not in some quirky, sanctimonious way though) in ways that make sense.

What good will that do? Once again, I don't know. But here's my hunch. It's better than standing on the sidelines kibitzing. Maybe we can't do much about random acts of violence but we can sure increase the volume on intentional acts of goodness. But that sounds almost trite, a cliche'. Doable? Yes. Necessary? Yes? Enough? Don't know.

I'm all for niceness, courtesy, fair play and please and thank you. Those should be the normal habits of our life. And they do make a difference. But what if what we're facing something bigger than common courtesy can handle? What if what we need requires more of us?

What if God is actually calling us to a sacrificial way of life? It's that going beyond the bounds of comfort so that we're really feeling the pinch in all areas of our life. It's that place where we're giving to the point that we have no choice but to trust God and other people wonder if we've walked off the deep end of the pier. What if that's the only way to get the attention of a scared world? What if living into our fears is the only thing that will change anything?

Richard Foster believes that the great need for today is growing the number of 'deep people'. Superficiality won't cut it anymore. But I like superficiality. I'm good at it. Going deep and staying deep is not what I'm good at. At the core of my being I know Foster is right. Am I willing to become a deep person? And what happens if I say no?

I'll write more about what 'deep' means. I have a hunch one doesn't go deep alone. There's power in being together on a journey such as this. Would love to hear if this resonates with you at all. Blessings.

Saturday, July 23, 2011


Jesus asked us to go into all the world and make disciples.  The world is a tough place.  And because it’s tough some try to pull themselves into a self-made bubble of protection   hoping that their personal security system, gated community, or distancing themselves from what they consider trouble spots will keep them from harm.  And then they’re not really in the world anymore are they? So how will they make the difference God wants them to make?

Increasingly I am  becoming concerned about the divides in our society. Rich and poor. Urban and suburban. Color of skin. Ethnicity.  Access to opportunity.  They are there. They’re real.  They’re not going away.  Instead of running away from that which causes us discomfort we have to walk straight into them.  But that journey is uncomfortable.

I’ve been thinking recently about what happens when we turn away from big issues instead of trying to understand them.  Our natural inclination to organize ourselves around clan, tribe, race, ethnicity, preferences and circumstances tends to create barriers to understanding. When people are isolated they start to believe the worst about those who are different.  That belief can easily lead to hate.  Look at Rwanda, Nazi Germany, the Klan movement in our country, and even in church splits (often caused by insignificant matters disguised as a fight for doctrinal integrity).

Our world is diverse enough these days that we can’t help but rub shoulders with those who are different.  Spend any time in a hospital and you will meet the world.  But do we really get to know people as individuals?  Or worse yet does the individual we meet become a representative of all people from their particular tribe or nation.  I like to tell people that if you meet a ‘white person’ you’ve met one white person. Don’t generalize much beyond that.  Same goes with someone who works with an African American.  That colleague is an individual who has insights about the Black experience in America but they don’t represent every African Americans opinion about every subject. We are in grave danger of doing severe injustice to Muslim people in our country because of the stereotypes we advance.  Stereotypes will bite us in the back side more often than not.

I don’t think I’m an alarmist but I’m concerned that our journey to be in community with like minded and like looking folks is going to prove to be a very unhelpful strategy going forward.

In scripture Jesus pleads for the unity of the body of Christ.  We’re taught that we need each other to be complete and that ‘in Christ’ there is no division.  And yet we know there are deep divisions because so many carry deep fear about people who are different from them.

As you all know we are facing a budget crisis in our country.  Maybe it’s because I actually am getting to know people different from myself I’m finding myself sure of  one thing.  I’d rather pay more personally than have the ‘least of these’ carry the burden for an economic recovery.  I find concern for the marginalized is a deep current leading straight to God’s heart.  And yes there are other issues of capping, cutting, pork, and deficit reduction that our leaders need to deal with.  But not on the backs of the poor.  I find much of our lack of concern for those who have little a little repulsive and wonder if too many who are in power are too isolated from the diversity they claim to represent.

So, what does this all mean?

If we’re going to make the kind of kingdom impact we need to make we need to look at any patterns we have of isolating ourselves from people who make us uncomfortable.

We’ve got to be curious about other people’s experiences.

Quit stereotyping.

Some might need to be involved in an intentional journey talking about race and culture.  If you’re in the Chicago area send me a note ...I’ve not some ideas along these lines.

If you’re a parent don’t allow your child to grow in an environment where they are not sensitized to issues of race, ethnicity, and culture.

Put yourself in uncomfortable situations where you’re not the dominant culture expression.

Ask questions of friends and acquaintance who come from a different culture or race background. Ask the questions that will lead to greater understanding but perhaps greater discomfort (for you)

Friday, July 15, 2011


I know strategery really isn't a word. I think either George W. made it up or the folks at SNL made it up for him and it stuck. But I thought about that word this week. I'm involved in the process of helping making a strategic plan come alive. That's vital because too many strategic plans are dead in the water before the ink dries on it's pages (does ink even dry anymore or for that matter is there still such a thing?)

Strategic plans are a tad bit predictable especially in the church/para-church world. Its about crafting a vision statement that informs the mission which gives birth to the unsexy goals and objectives. Of course, the vision is always a variation of reaching the world (or at least a significant piece of geography) coupled with a some sort of creative twist on a love God, love others mission statement. Despite the predictability the exercise can refocus a ministry and even lead to new insights and better methodology.

Strategic plans are supposed to drive an organization to greater heights and depths but the truth is in the non profit world budget restraints often puts a bit of a stranglehold on vision and mission.

As Christians we're fond of saying that there is no lack in the kingdom of God. After all ...God owns the cattle on a thousand hills. But there does seem to be a lack based on the funding appeals lining my inbox. Don't worry, I don't think God is broke. It's just that He chooses to use people as His supply line. And people can be remarkably cheap especially when asked to give even somewhat sacrificially. I know because that 's where I struggle. Maybe you do too. But it's not just sacrificial giving. My wife works in Christian radio and only about 10% of regular listeners bother to support the ministry at even minimal levels. That's true in many churches. It's sad because enormous amounts of time and energy are then required to figure out ways to entice money out of full pocketbooks. Perhaps it's true that the conversion of the pocketbook is the hardest one of all. I'm convinced that most tithing supports programs that gives goods and services back to the giver. That's why, even though I give to my church, I often wonder if I'm just not giving back to myself. Despite my angst I still write my checks but secretly delight in giving to things that won't benefit me.

So, sometime during our strategery session this week at Breakthrough (which has a terrific vision by the way for what needs to happen in East Garfield Park) I began to understand in pretty profound ways the funding issues that get in the way of making a vision come alive. I also felt burdened by all the constituencies needing to be satisfied. This government contract wants to measure this, that foundation has a another set of expectations, the really conservative church that supports us wants certain things to happen, and the liberal church is appalled by what the conservative church is expecting. It gets difficult to fund a vision and a mission and satisfy everyone. And satisfying everyone just ain't going to happen.

But what choice do those who are responding to God's call really have? When God places something on hearts and minds you just can't walk away. If anything you dig in deeper, pray like crazy, keep inviting people into the vision, and look for imaginative ways to get done what absolutely has to get done. And then accept the fact that at any given time that someone from one funding source or another will be disappointed and wrestling with the temptation to turn their giving into a weapon.

Funding a God-sized vision will never be easy I'm thinking. There still is an enemy that kills, steals and destroys. Keeping wallets in the back pocket and unopened is an easy temptation to sell. But I am convinced there is a growing army of people that are choosing to resist that temptation. There just isn't enough of them yet.

Friday, July 08, 2011


My friend Kevin and his wife Helen are kingdom builders.  They live in New Zealand but for several months a year they traipse the globe resourcing people, churches, and ministries in very challenging locales.  They work for Bright Hope World. They believe that God has gifted poor people with enormous gifts and talents. That giftedness just needs to be nurtured appropriately. But they also see injustice after injustice after injustice after injustice.  Their latest blog post is worth a read.

Injustice.   It's when people are treated unfairly. Sometimes once. Sometimes it's often. It's especially harsh when someone in a power position decides to get his/her way at any cost and by any means.  We all have experienced injustice in some ways.  Who hasn't complained about a lack of fairness somewhere along the line?  But what if you never played on anything that remotely looks like a level playing field?  What would that be like?  What would you be thinking? Feeling?  

In all honesty most injustices I've encountered have been speed bumps and not barriers although I know that's not true for all of you who read my stuff. When I read Kevin and Helen's blog this morning I identified with their anger.  I've met some of the people they write about.  It ticked me off too.  I saw Jesus in and through their indignation.

My stepson John is working at Breakthrough this summer. He's met some of the same people Kevin and Helen write about.  And now he's starting to see bits and pieces of injustice in East Garfield Park. He wonders about and prays for the safety of the kids he's working with.  He s asking the right questions about issues that are only a few miles from our doorstep. So should we all.  But do we?

Let's be honest.  We're addicted to comfort and the avoidance of pain and inconvenience.  What's good for 'me' is a central plot line in most lives. That is, unless you take the scriptures seriously.  And when you do you see the message about 'us' written on every page and what looks like a clarion call to mobilize and be attentive to the needs of the poor and marginalized.  It's almost impossible to read Scripture and miss God's daring concern for those who have the least. And what do we do with all of that?  What do I do with that?

Every day I drive into the city these thoughts run through my head. 

      1.  Big problems.
      2.  Big God.
      3.  Big God cares deeply about the Big Problems.
      4.  Big God wants me to care about what's on His mind.

And when I interact with the people who have experienced true injustice (both personal and systemic) I'm often deeply humbled. I realize that even though I care I still have an awful lot to learn. That's a good place to be isn't it?  To remain in the posture of the 'learner' is far better than walking around thinking you're 'learned'.

So what's the bottom line today? Kevin and Helen's blog got to me. Obviously, huh?  Make sure you read it.  Click on the link or paste the URL into your browser.    Their frustration with injustice is stirring something in me that's good.  Could it be that once you really begin to care deeply about the things God cares about that everything begins to change? Do what you need to do Lord.  Do what you need to do.

Thursday, July 07, 2011


A couple of Sunday mornings ago I talked about a tough subject. Sin.  What follows is an abridged version of my remarks.  If you want to hear the whole thing go to i tunes and look under podcasts. Search for  ...  2HC: 2nd Hour Contemporary at Christ Church of Oak Brook.

I’m losing the pigment in my skin. I have a disease.  It’s called vitiligo.  It's not catchy and by itself it is not life threatening. My hands and feet are spotted and I have spotting under one eye and around my lips.  One downside is that losing pigment makes me much more susceptible to skin cancer. So I pay attention and take protective measures. Vitiligo certainly has a cosmetic impact but Anita assures me my modeling days are probably far behind me so it probably won't matter all that much.

It’s the same disease Michael Jackson had by the way. He was often accused of bleaching his skin.  I can understand why.  The white splotches on black skin is cosmetically jarring and for entertainers certainly not what they wish for.

Tim Keller in his book, King’s Cross, talks about sin being a stain that cuts across all human history and shows up in our lives.  Lots of people don't like to talk about sin.  Some people I know don't like to deal with the shadow side of their nature. Don't like to hear Jesus talking in hard ways.  Or for that matter their pastors.

It’s kind of a downer subject. For the most part we're rather ho hum about sin these days until someone else's sinfulness intersects with our life.  And then we're all over it.

Keller  says that “According to Jesus, in our natural sinful state we’re unfit for the presence of God.”  Most people these days have a problem with this.  We don't like looking at ourselves as unclean, defiled, or evil. We think we’re basically good and have fixable issues, primarily cosmetic and certainly not life threatening, and certainly nothing that will keep us from the eternal reward people like us deserve. "And if there is a God," many say, "He is certainly more chummy than holy and that there's no way we stand before him guilty and condemned.” 

"Can't we just talk about God's love?" folks wonder. We could but it’s been said that "in the bright sunshine of God's love our shadow begins to emerge and then and only then will begin to understand how great God's love really is.” One of the identifiers of Christian people is that they understand that they are 'loved sinners'.

But we don't even like to call sin .... sin. And we struggle with calling ourselves sinners. We call sin a dysfunction, an undesirable family of origin issue, a result of bad choices, or a chemical imbalance. "Sin is what I do when I'm not being myself," some will say.

Actually sin is something we do when we are ourselves. It's imprint is deep in our lives.  It appears to be our default life mechanism and it shows itself in all kinds of ugly ways.  It shows up in how we act and how we fail to act..  The presence of sin is so easy to see our lives, in our cultural systems, in our politics, in our history and in our economic life. It's a stain. It's a big deal.

Throughout the story of faith the stain of sin is ever present. It’s a huge subplot. But it's not bigger than the story of the God who loves.  He's bigger than sin. He wins you know.  And the only stain that will someday remain is a stain called love ...and it's truly quite beautiful. But in the meantime we pay attention and do what’s necessary to protect ourselves …just as I have to do with my vitiligo. Sin is a reality we live with and must deal with but for those of us who love Jesus …it can’t destroy us ultimately.  But if we don’t pay attention sin can surely muck up our lives and create havoc on others.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011


I'm thinking about leadership. It's both style and substance. My first study of leadership many years ago at a Hennepin County (MN) training seminar told me that a good leader gets the agreed upon job done well but doesn't disempower people in the process. Not a bad definition of a manager but it only hints at what a good leader does and is I'm afraid.

Leadership is more than enough form and function to get 'er done. Although good leaders accomplish plenty there's something about a good leader that speaks to a certain realness that is rooted deep in something substantial. I guess we'd call that a nourished authenticity. Something good seems to always flow into leadership quality people. You can almost feel it and sense it. And out of that flow of goodness comes a fountain of honesty, caring, focused edginess, peaceful power and clear resolve. But that fountain stops once the flow of goodness is blocked.

Many people liken leadership essentials to what's below the waterline in a well built sailing vessel. Many a ship has sunk because too much attention has been paid to how the vessel would look and not enough attention to what would keep it afloat.

So here's my question? OK. First, let me make a comment. I think too many don't really give a rip about below the waterline kind of issues. Now, here's the question. What's below your waterline? Do you even care?

I think that too many just go with the flow of life. Not much intentionality. Reaction instead of proactivity. Passive existence instead of thoughtful engagement. Dull life. Personal leadership is missing. And it's all considered normal. Whew.

Where are the difference makers? Am I one? Are you? Do we even care?

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Ho Hum

I'm weary. Already. The campaign season hasn't even begun and I've had enough. Just heard that the NEA endorsed a candidate already and I'm pretty ho hum about it all.

You need to understand that I'm a political junkie from way back. After devouring Advise and Consent a gazillion times I dreamed of being a political pro. I was a Government major in college, served on the student council four times, worked on campaigns, labored for the city of Minneapolis, marched a wee bit (bit not enough), read the MInneapolis Star Tribune religiously, Time and Newsweekly zealously, and even tried law school for a week or two. I cared. A lot. For a long time I cared. For that matter I still do but in all honesty I've lost my passion for it all.


I used to understand the rules of politics and government. In it's own convoluted way it made sense. The free for all we have now scares me a bit because it's a bit too free form. There are no rules of engagement anymore. Anything goes. There's nothing to wrap my mind and hopes around anymore. I'm not sure who to trust.

I once believed that with a little give here and a little give there that politicians would find a way to make things good for their country. I'm not convinced that little give and take is possible anymore. There's nothing little anymore in the cravings for power and media attention these days. Please believe me when I tell you that I'm not naive about the political ugliness of the past. But that ugliness was held somewhat in check by a societal standard of right and wrong that permeated just about everything. Now right and wrong is held up as suspect just about anywhere one looks.

We're in a bind I think. We don't trust anymore. We expect and almost appreciate outrageous behavior. And those who hold on to right and wrong often fail to look at the log in their own eye. As a result, there is an absence of a winsome expression of the goodness of God.

Is there a way out? Nothing easy comes to mind. This is a hole we've been digging for a long time. All of us. But here's what I'm thinking. I can start to care again about those things I've been dismissive about. I can ask God for the grace to rekindle old passions and the ideals that originally ignited them. I could actually begin to pray for those politicians that tick me off and if the world needs a more winsome expression of the goodness of God perhaps I could learn how to do it and encourage it within my circles of influence. And when I feel ho hum I could resist such notions because I know that when I'm ho hum that I'm rarely in the center of God's will for my life.

Monday, July 04, 2011

Thoughts on the 4th

I think it's good to celebrate our history and our freedoms. The USA has had noble moments and will continue to have them. I can't think of anywhere I'd rather live and consider being born in this county as a huge blessing that carries with it some rather major responsibilities. I love the blessing and pray to be brave enough to live into the responsibility.

I'm not a 'my country right or wrong kind of guy'. I've seen my government lie and scheme and watched good people take to the streets in order to right wrongs. The civil rights movement and the protests of the Vietnam War come instantly to mind. Those brave enough to confront 'wrong' often paid heavy consequences. In their own ways they are American heroes just like those who fought bravely against tyranny during World War I and II.

I'm reminded on this 4th of July that my citizenship in the kingdom of God is what informs my citizenship in my country. As a free man I am thankful for the choices that I have. Those choices have to be rooted in some sort of authoritative source. I find that source in the traditions and scripture of my faith. My allegiance to the laws of this country and it purposes are strong but only as long as they don't step on my primary commitment to Christ and His purposes. The ways of Christ are often quite different from the tactics of our economic and political strategists.

The good news is that we live in a country where we all still have the ability to influence policy both locally and nationally. Too many stand on the sidelines thinking their gossipy criticisms actually make a difference. It doesn't and won't. Talk is cheap in both the kingdom of God and in the challenging issues facing our country. I wonder who will step up to the plate and be the 'difference maker' this time around. Perhaps it's me. Or you?

Tonight we will ooh and ah and rank the fireworks this year against the fireworks of our youth. Many of you have already saluted the flag and cheered for war veterans and other modern day heroes. 'Tis a good day. May we live into the hopes of our founders and remain faithful to the calls of God on our lives.