25 December 2011

Welcome to Your World

Dear Baby Jesus (said with the accent from Talladega Nights),
       Welcome to your mess ... I mean world. It is beautiful, and horrible. It is hopeless and full of hope.
       On this Christmas please hear my confession and my hope:
* I confess that our material and consumer selves are a human obsession which draws us away from what is most important in life;
* I confess that we have de-mystified your incarnation, often reduced it to platitudes;
* I confess that many "Santas" compete for my time, attention, and devotion in our non-second 21st century.
* And yet I hope ... I hope deeply and am confident in you, Jesus. I hope for and see tiny signs of your Shalom in your world;
* I hope that as you enter our mess in 2012 you will do the miraculous - that Jew and Muslim and Christian will worship the One True God, who is you.
* I hope that we your people will be faith - full. That is, focused and determined in the right directions, that your will would be done on earth as it is in heaven.
So welcome to the world, dear baby Jesus.

13 December 2011

A Great Video

This is the promo video for the Cru Christmas Conference in Denver. Really well done.

12 December 2011

"Does God cause the Broncos to win because of Tebow?"

Oy vey! Christian America is just goofy. Last night I am sitting in a TGIFridays and a guy at the table next to me comments, "The Denver Broncos are winning because of Tebow's faith in Jesus." God is calling the shots in the NFL these days I guess. I wonder if He has money riding on the game also.
       It raises all sorts of questions for me that God might be on Tim Tebow's side on the football field:
* If I pray that the Denver Broncos win and my Christian friend Troy prays for the Bears to win (since Troy is from Chicago), who does God listen to?
* If the Broncos lose a game later this season, is it because Tim Tebow did not pray enough or read his Bible that week?
* If I say that God is not involved in determining the outcome of sports, then what else is He not involved in? Is this the slippery slope to Deism?
       We all love formulas that we can figure out and determine what God will do. The "Tebow Formula" is one of those - Tim loves God so God causes his team to win. Ugh!
       I respect Tebow - largely because of his humility and not calling attention to himself. He honors his coaches and teammates. He articulates that football is just a game and it is not the essence of life.
       And I appreciate that Tebow knows that God is not primarily about the Broncos winning or losing a game! How refreshing.

11 December 2011

Returning to The Gospel of the Kingdom

I get distracted easily. I love to multi-task and sometimes that gives me blurry vision. Yet by God's grace I often refocus and ask what is the gospel of the Kingdom to which I am called? THAT is the question.
       Thanks to theologian George Eldon Ladd the phrase "gospel of the Kingdom" is a lot more understandable to day than it was a generation ago. The gospel of the Kingdom is the message of Good News that Jesus has inaugurated the Kingdom of God on earth.
       This coming Thursday we will launch the Isaac-Ishmael Initiative website and Facebook page, thus officially going public with this movement to promote Shalom in Jesus toward Jews and Muslims.
       The gospel of the Kingdom is at the very heart of the Initiative. It is about the People of God as the agents of announcing the gospel of the Kingdom, and Jesus Christ as its King.
       George Eldon Ladd put it this way toward the end of his book, The Gospel of the Kingdom:
       This is the mystery of the Kingdom: Before the day of harvest, before the end of the age, God has entered into history in the person of Christ to work among men, to bring to them the life and blessings of His Kingdom. It comes humbly, unobtrusively.
       It comes to men as a Galilean carpenter went throughout the cities of Palestine preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom, delivering men from their bondage to the Devil.
       It comes to men as his disciples went throughout Galilean villages with the same message. It comes to men today as disciples of Jesus still take, the Gospel of the Kingdom into all the world.
       It comes quietly, humbly, without fire from heaven, without a blaze of glory, without a rending of the mountains or a cleaving of the skies.
       It comes like seed sown in the earth. It can be rejected by hard hearts, it can be choked out, its life may sometimes seem to wither and die. But it is the Kingdom of God. It brings the miracle of the divine life among men. It introduces them into the blessings of the divine rule. It is to them the supernatural work of God's grace.

06 December 2011

Extravagant Generosity "Run Amok"

In the New Testament book of Acts there is a verse we tend to "wink at," sort of saying, "Well that's a great example, but we're not supposed to do that today!"
     The verse says: "And all the believers lived in a wonderful harmony, holding everything in common. They sold whatever they owned and pooled their resources so that each person's need was met." (Acts 2:44-45, The Message)
       I have pastored in a number of contexts - from Geneva to Amsterdam to Denver - and my churches have prided ourselves on giving a tithe (10%) of all contributions to mission. When we met that goal we felt like we had "arrived" as a church.
     Acts 2:44-45 challenges this attitude. Personally I would LOVE to be part of a Christian community which turns this formula on its head - that the community would give away 90% of all the gifts provided by the people. Every month we would pray and dream about how God would have use give, give, give His resources provided through the community.
     My hunch is that we would then be closer to an Acts 2:45 community.

02 December 2011

Dragging my bones to Shabbat

It is Friday and I slept 5 hours last night, having arrived back in Denver late from Indianapolis due to a delayed flight. Today I am dragging my bones around the office, eagerly awaiting the beginning of shabbat.
       A group of us (25 or so) meet once per month on Friday evening to celebration the sabbath with a meal and a short liturgy. Tonight is the night, and I cannot wait for it!
       For one thing it is just casual and relaxed and we are all there to remind each other that there is a "time to work and a time to rest." And tonight begins the weekly rest.
       Another reason I enjoy it so much is because the people who gather are REAL, trying to figure out the rhythms of life with God and in community and they are not perfect at it either. I feel in good company with them.
       For my birthday in October Susy made me an incredible piece of pottery (see photo). It is a ceramic scroll she hand-crafted and then fired in the Raku style (thus it looks cracked).Then she made the Hebrew letters to spell Shalom. I have the image on my desk in the office and also on my iPhone. A gentle reminder of God's call to practice sabbath and shalom on a regular basis. Can't wait.

27 November 2011

Black Friday Must Go

The Associated Press wrote this about Black Friday in America: "Pepper-sprayed customers, smash-and-grab looters and bloody scenes in the shopping aisles. How did Black Friday devolve into this?"
       What has it devolved into? For one thing it is a competition to be the first in line to buy an item you probably don't need. It is the ultimate statement of American individualism.
       Second, it is about greed. In the name of gift-giving, Black Friday is all about consumption and having more stuff. In the simple world of my friend Lisa on her blog, it is GROSS.
        Third, it is about loss of something transcendent. That is to say, for many people the sales of Black Friday are an idol, a sort of god. My hunch is that Christians are just about as infected as non-Christians. I guess a $288 TV for the first 25 customers in Walmart is just too tempting.
       Many of us "religious" people become quite upset at specific social ills - homosexuality, high taxes, health care reform - to name a few. We then lose our voices on Black Friday and become part of the insanity. I just don't get that.

26 November 2011

Susy's Pottery

Susy is doing her first pottery show on the weekend of December 9-11 here in Denver. In preparation for that she has a new website at:
     You can check out her work there. I have also posted a few of her newer pieces below. Some amazing items!
     If you live in or around Denver please stop by our house on Friday evening, December 9 or Saturday morning, December 10 for the show.

24 November 2011

The People of God - Grateful

I love Thanksgiving each year, because it challenges me to reflect on what I am grateful for at the moment.
       This year I am grateful for the "regular" and very good things - my wife, Susy, my kids, Carly and Steven, my extended family, etc.
       But here is a new wrinkle in where my heart goes on this Thanksgiving Day. I marvel at and am thankful for this very unique group called The People of God. I am thankful for what is supposed to characterize them in every culture:
1. Diversity rather than homogeneity: I am grateful to God that He intentionally calls us into social, economic, political diversity and asks us to follow Jesus and to serve others as the People of God. It is humbling and enriching;
2. Corporate Faith: I am thankful that God does not ask me to follow Jesus individually and individualistically. He calls His people to have faith together (which often cuts against a culture where individual rights are central);
3. Generosity: Thanksgiving is a reminder of God's abundance in our lives. Many of us have feasts and remember how much we have been given and how good life is in many ways. For me the issue is not one of abundance, but rather what we do with that abundance. I call it the generosity quotient. The People of God are marked by their astounding generosity in response to God's astounding provision for us.
Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family.

18 November 2011

Tebow: Faith meets sport meets faith

Tim Tebow is the talk of the town in Denver these days. In case you have been visiting Mars or some other place, Tebow is the starting quarterback of the Denver Broncos of the NFL.
       Last night Tebow led his team to a come-from-behind win over the New York Jets. It was an amazing win. A New York newspaper this morning had the headline, VicTIMized! Yes indeed.
       And did I mention that Tebow is a committed Christian, and is not ashamed to speak about his faith. And he is demonstrative about honoring God as he competes (kneeling down to pray after scoring a touchdown, for example).
       I'm a Tim Tebow fan - for one main reason: his humility. He has been scrutinized and mocked for his faith, and yet Tebow has not reacted. He "turned the other cheek," which seems distinctly Jesus-like!
       I wonder what would happen if an athlete who is a Muslim or a Jew was outspoken about their faith? Would they be scrutinized as Tebow has? And if they had been mocked for their faith, what would be the outrage be in our culture?
       Like I said, I am a Tim Tebow fan ... not because he is a great football player, but rather because he is attempting for his FAITH to meet his SPORT and in turn for his SPORT to meet his FAITH again.

15 November 2011

Courage is Contagious!

Last night ABC News did an interview with Gabby Giffords and her husband Mark Kelly. Giffords was shot in the head months ago in Arizona. Their courage as a couple is inspiring and courageous. It gives me hope.

14 November 2011

A Funny Thing Happened on the Sabbath!

We had a Shabbat Celebration last Friday evening with about 30 people. It's a great time of sharing a meal together and doing a brief liturgy to inaugurate the sabbath. We are calling the group Shalom Village for the time being.
       Well something just hilarious happened the other day. Our friend Jim brought a HAM for the dinner. Now Jim knows very well that it's a sabbath celebration with Jewish undertones. So it was partly a joke to do this.
       When Jim went to check out at the grocery store (with a $10 coupon, no less!), the scanner did not work and they could not figure out the price of the ham. So they gave it to him for FREE!
       This is what I call a Jew's worst nightmare and best dream: Bringing a ham to the shabbat dinner is a nightmare, getting it for free is a dream come true!
       We all ate the ham happily and were grateful that we live under the GRACE of God and that the Old Testament laws certainly had and have their place. But that we could enjoy the ham! (and had a great laugh at the situation too!).

What do we SAY about Jesus, really?

And so it was with me, brothers and sisters. When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. ~ 1 Corinthians 2:1-2
       I heard a speaker last week who makes the point that he does not talk about Christianity, but he only talks about "following Jesus." He's an engaging speaker, very funny. Here is some of the things I heard him saying about following Jesus:
* The Gospel is a person, not a system or a thing;
* Jesus cared for the poor;
* Jesus selected a diverse group of people as disciples, including a tax collector and a zealot who were like terrorists of today;
* Jesus told people to follow him and to become like him;
* God wants to change people's hearts to make them pure.
       I agree with everything the speaker said about following Jesus.
       At the beginning of this talk, the speaker quoted three Scriptures. One of those scriptures is 1 Corinthians 2:1-2, which says in part I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.
       The very odd thing that the speaker did not talk about was "him crucified." In fact he never spoke about "crucified" or "resurrection" or other crucial realities concerning the life of Jesus Christ. It was disappointing that the speaker did not or could not talk about the MOST important Truths about the very Jesus we are called to follow! How odd! How strange!

11 November 2011

Preparing for Shabbat

Tonight is the Sabbath, which I have looked forward to all week. I think that's how it is supposed to be. In the midst of work we look forward to the rhythm of rest and of peace, being in God's presence in a unique way and being with community.
       So this evening a group of us will gather in the upper room of a barn here in Lakewood and observe some of the traditions of Shabbat:
* Lighting candles which symbolizes that God's light has come into the world;
* The Shema which calls us back to the heart of faith - that God is God and we are to love Him with everything that we are;
* The Kiddish which is so incredibly rich with foreshadowing of the Passover and Jesus at the seder and his death and resurrection.
       What helps me the most is that I must make a choice - slow down, reflect, stop ... or blow through sabbath and continue to work. The latter is a slow death, the former is life-giving.
      So to all of you on this Friday and for whenever you slow down, Shabbat-Shalom.

10 November 2011

A Plea to Penn State

To the Trustees of Penn State,
I would urge you to cancel the remainder of the football season at your institution, for numerous reasons:
   1) One of your assistant coaches, Mike McQueary, has received threats and will not be able to coach this weekend. McQueary testified against Mr. Sandusky before the grand jury;
   2) Your institution has more dignity than the rioting students showed at their protest of Joe Paterno's firing. Your students are a danger to themselves and to your institution's reputation;
   3) Nebraska fans have been warned not to wear their school colors at Saturday's game due to violence from Penn State fans. These conditions warrant you canceling your season;
   4) Your head coach of 46 years has refused to stand up as a leader and take responsibility for what happened under his tenure. Mr. Paterno's actions has caused irreparable damage to your football program;
   5) It is clear that your institution's football program is something of an idol in the hearts and minds of students, alumni, faculty, staff, and donors. The program's importance in the life of your school is so distorted that it has resulted in people acting in horrible ways about Paterno's dismissal while losing sight of the tragedy of young boys being abused.
   You owe it to the dignity of the people who were abused to take a step back, cancel the remainder of your football season, and grieve the incredible losses of this situation.

09 November 2011

Paterno's Last Decision His Worst

The picture of Joe Paterno that I will remember will be of him walking off a field with his head down. That's how he finished his 46-year tenure at Penn State today.
       It is nothing less than tragic.
       Paterno's last decision as Penn State football coach belies the character issues deep in his heart. Earlier today he announced that he would retired after this football season, rather than immediately resigning. What? Really?
       It was his last and worst decision as a leader.
       When a leader chooses to leave poorly (as Paterno did) he leaves a wake of devastation. The bigger the leader the harder they fall. Paterno is leaving in the worst way possible - refusing to take responsibility, refusing to humble himself and refusing to take the bullet as the leader.
       If "pride comes before the fall," Joe Paterno is the poster-child for it.

06 November 2011

The Muslim imams made a good point

Recently when I was in North Africa as part of a dialog with 16 Muslim clerics (imams), one of them brought up some very embarrassing moments for Christians in America.
       The imam asked how we Christians make sense of Jimmy Swaggart's infamous tearful confession on television and what we thought of the Crystal Cathedral going bankrupt. I wished that news did not spread as quickly as it does these days!
       I had no defense for these events in the Western Church.
       Now I feel even more embarrassed after reading this from the Orange County Register last week:
   GARDEN GROVE – An email sent out to members of the Crystal Cathedral congregation requesting meals for founder Robert H. Schuller's wife Arvella, who is ill with pneumonia, is creating mixed feelings of sadness and outrage among members.
   According to longtime member Jim McDonald, an email was sent out by administrators to Bible study groups as well as church elders, asking that meals for the reverend's wife be dropped off at the cathedral's Tower of Hope where the Schullers' limo drivers will be waiting to pick them up at the designated time.
       If you are not aware, the Crystal Cathedral declared bankruptcy some months ago, leaving $46 million in unsecured debt with creditors. Wow, I wonder what my imam friends would say to me now.
       There are so many opportunities for the spread of the gospel in our day. The mission agency I have worked for for many years has an annual income of about $5 million, and it works in more than 30 locations on 3 continents. The Crystal Cathedral's debt is 9 times the annual budget of my mission agency!
       I realize this blog entry is an absolute RANT, and it is not good to rant very often. But once in a while there is a situation which IS just so outlandish and bizarre that it actually DEMANDS that we rant! And this is one of those situations for me.

05 November 2011

Listening to Josh McDowell

I sat in the front row of the Oasis Conference yesterday and waited for the session to begin. All at once a man with striking white hair sat down next to me. He was wearing a jean jacket, white pants, and "loud" multi-colored high-top sneakers.
     "Hi, I'm Josh McDowell," he said. He looked at my name tage and continued, "Brian Newman ... hmmmm, I like your salad dressing."
       "That's a different Newman," I said.
       "Too bad," Josh said. "You would be rich if it was you!" He laughed loudly and gave me a huge grin.
       I heard Josh McDowell speak for the first time in April, 1983 a month after I came to faith in Jesus. It was KC'83, a conference sponsored by Campus Crusade for Christ. I don't remember exactly what Josh said that day, but I know it helped me draw closer to Christ. And for that I am very grateful.
       So last night I listened to Josh speaking again. He did a talk called, "Just One Click Away," which was a sobering look at the impact of the Internet on the 21st century. It was a powerful time - Josh pointing out how we have often jettisoned Truth even as we have accumulated massive amounts of knowledge.

04 November 2011

From One Year Ago

The other day I was sitting around the firepit with my friend Roger, shooting the breeze as we sometimes do. I shared with him my growing and intensifying convictions about Jews and Muslims. Later that night I remembered that a year ago I was asked to write myself a job description for The Isaac-Ishmael Initiative. This is what I wrote then, and which I continue to pursue:

       I was encouraged to write up a description of what I will do in ministry possibly in regards to Muslem–Jewish outreach and ministry. This will not be a traditional job description. I have been unable to write one.
       I am a Jew who knows how to hate those who are not Jewish. I learned this from birth, while attending Hebrew School, celebrating my bar mitzvah, and listening to my elders describe the people who are “out to get the Jews.”
       When planes hit two towers in New York City on September 11, 2001 I was living in Amsterdam. The media in Holland learned that I was a Jew from New York whose family still lives there. They also knew I was a pastor of a church in Amsterdam. They saw a news angle and I found myself being interviewed, asked questions such as, “do you see Muslems as enemies of America? Are they enemies of Christians?” My heart was “caught” in my own prejudices.
       In the past couple of years God has been stirring me, causing me to take “baby steps” to break through hatred to something else – to seek the Shalom of the children of Abraham. I have been all together reluctant to move in this direction. “I have not been called to Muslems and Jews” was my rationale.
       Perhaps God has other plans.
       I do not know what all this means, it is a “crazy” and “bizarre” idea for a Jew to be an agent of grace toward Muslems, or other Jews for that matter. I do not know how this will happen, I do not know the contexts for this to happen, I do not have a strategic plan or even a missional initiative.
       All I know is that I am a Jew who follows a rabbi named Jesus who is love and calls me to be an agent of that love.

03 November 2011

Greece: Incredibly Bad Leadership

As I write this the BBC is reporting that Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou is about to resign, after his spectacular leadership debacle of calling a referendum on the EU financial bailout for Greece.
       Mr. Papandreou has instantly become the "poster child" for non-leadership, or un-leadership. What leader in their right mind would hand back to the people the decision whether to go into default as a country, and to trigger the fall of a 16-country currency (the euro)?
       In my opinion it is difficult to find many leaders in any political system at the moment. The lack of political leadership from the U.S. to Europe to Asia and beyond is striking, and has caused major problems in the world's economies. But Mr. Papandreou has drifted to new lows in leadership incompetence. His best leadership decision now is to resign.

31 October 2011

Sorrow-filled Joy ... Joy-filled Sorrow

Last Saturday Susy, Steven, and I attended a wonderful celebration for Linus and Sharon Morris, who celebrated 50 years of marriage. It was good ... very good, in so many ways. Linus and Sharon have followed Jesus and loved each other well. They have raised a great family and are stewarding their lives.
       Susy was one of several people who spoke and did a little presentation. She also made a ceramic piece for them for their anniversary (she makes me look good!).
       We visited with a bunch of people during the party who we have journeyed with for many years. Some we had not seen for a long time. It was a joy-filled time together.
       We got in our rental car to drive south to Orange County late that evening. I checked Facebook on my iphone, to catch up with the world that sort of stopped for a few hours while we enjoyed time with Linus and Sharon.
      All at once that joy I felt was mixed with great sorrow as I learned that my friend Mike Holland from Cortland had died suddenly. He was 52 years old.
      Mike was driving a group of students from Cortland State in New York to Binghamton to help flood victims. He had a heart attack and died a short time later. The Ithaca Journal newspaper wrote an obituary today about Mike. Two sentences jumped out at me:
"A devoted husband, father, and community member, Michael was a volunteer basketball, soccer and baseball youth coach for many years. He was a man of integrity filled with love and compassion for everyone around him." 
       Yep, that was Mike. He lived well, and died far too young. May he know peace and rest with Jesus now. I will miss my friend here on earth.
       And so went my weekend - deep joy and deep sorrow. Somehow learning to live with both seems to be the richness of life.

28 October 2011

Two Bookcovers - Light Years Apart

I saw these two books next to each other at Barnes and Noble yesterday. They both purport to be "Christian," but I just cannot put Joel Osteen and Dietrich Bonhoeffer in the same breath!

27 October 2011

Howard Schultz on Leading

Here is a quote from Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks, from the book, Lessons from the Top: the Search for America's Best Business Leaders:
"I think it's very difficult to lead today when people are not really truly participating in the decision. You won't be able to attract and retain great people if they don't feel like they are part of the authorship of the strategy and the authorship of the really critical issues. If you don't give people an opportunity to really be engaged, they won't stay."
       I have wondered what it takes to be the kind of leader who helps people truly participate, who helps people be co-authors of strategy, and who helps people speak into the critical issues of the organization.
       What kind of leader does this?
* One who is becoming self-less rather than self-absored;
* One who is deflects attention from himself and puts the spotlight on others;
* One who listens to correction and makes mid-course corrections;
* One whose inner life is centered. For me as a Christian that means centered on Jesus;
* One who could lose it all and still be intact as a person
       I know very few of these kind of leaders. I wish I knew more.

26 October 2011

I am in the top .93% wealthiest in the world... hmmmm

My friend Brian posted something on the LCI blog this week that really hit me between the eyes. It is the GlobalRichList.
       According to my income of 2010 I am number 55,923,010 wealthiest person in the world of 7 billion people. That makes me in the top .93% wealthiest!
       Now here is the shocker to me: In 2008 my income was almost double what it was in 2010. That means I was in the top 1/2 percent wealthiest people!
       What freaks me out even MORE than that is the questions that sneak into my consciousness as I do this little assessment:
* I wonder who is ahead of me and how they got there?
* I wonder if I will ever break into the 50 million person club of richest people! (and what did Jesus say about the first being last?)
* I wonder who is number 55,923,010 from the BOTTOM OF THE LIST. I wonder what their life is like. I can only begin to imagine.
* I wonder why Christians seems to be so divided over this issue of wealth and riches. Some of us very well-meaning followers of Jesus justify our lifestyles in bizarre ways.
* I wonder if I will ever learn what Paul learned - to become content in whatever circumstance he found himself in - whether in great plenty or great want. (Philippians 4)
* And I wonder when I will begin to realize that I am crazy RICH in comparison with 99% of the other 7 billion people on earth!

25 October 2011

Aid workers abducted in western Algeria

The BBC and Al Jazeera reported over the weekend that three aid workers were kidnapped in the Rabuni refugee camp in western Algeria. They were kidnapped by Al Queda terrorists who drove into the camp late in the evening and abducted them.
       I would not even had known about this event, except that I was in that very camp four weeks ago and had heard about terrorists crossing over from neighboring Mali and attacking the camps.
       All of a sudden life feels incredibly fragile, and I am sobered by the fact that "timing" and "fate" and "destiny" are all in the hands of God. I do not know why those terrorists struck on october 22nd rather than on September 25th when the American delegation I was part of was there. It is one of the mysteries of God's providence I suppose.

Here is the article: Aid workers abducted in western Algeria - Africa - Al Jazeera English

24 October 2011

A Cross Between an Artist and A Mad Scientist!

My son Steven watched Susy fire her pottery recently, and concluded that she is a cross between an artist and a mad scientist!
       You really have to be there with Susy to understand the whole thing. I went the other day to watch and just marveled and cracked up at my wife! She's amazing and hilarious, standing in the midst of trash cans in an army jacket! (see photo at right)
       Now please understand that the variety of pottery she makes is incredible, and she is doing new kinds of firing in different kilns and it's all very creative and beautiful.
       It's also really quite "right-brained," and I am quite a left-brain person. So it is a stretch for me to appreciate everything that Susy is learning and doing. But I am trying!
       If you thought that pottery might not be too action-oriented, check out the following "action" photo of Susy removing a piece of pottery from the kiln a couple of days ago. Quite the picture if you ask me. Maybe that's my artistic side coming out! (NOT)

22 October 2011

"The dreams I have"

I woke up in the middle of the night saying these exact words: "The dreams I have are bigger than my own imagination." What that means (I think) is that they are God's dreams and vision and not mine.
       Immediately I was brought back to a vivid memory of September 16, 2001 - 10 years ago and 5 days after the 9/11 attacks. We were living in Holland and I was pastoring at Crossroads Amsterdam. September 16th was a Sunday and we were doing a sort of memorial service that day. TV crews and other media from Holland were going to be there. I was SO stressed out after an intense week.
       I woke up at 6am that day unable to sleep anymore. I felt like the weight of the world was on my shoulders. And I thought to myself, "There is NO way I can stand up in front of hundreds of people today and say anything about God and His goodness."
       I called one of our church elders, Christa (wise and wonderful person that she is!), and told her I did not think I could preach that day. She listened quietly and then said, "Then don't. Just be part of the community and worship God!" What a concept! It was a vision bigger than my own imagination!
       Then I stood up in my bedroom and looked out the window to the west. It had been very stormy all night and it was now sunrise. As I peered out of the curtains there before me was one of the most magnificent rainbows I have ever seen. And all at once I knew that God's vision was such much greater than mine.
(P.S. - I did end up preaching that day - and I do not remember a word that I said! But I remember the rainbow perfectly)

The Crazy Ones

Somehow this ad from 1997 is all the more powerful because it is Steve Jobs narrating it. Here's to eh The Crazy Ones indeed!

20 October 2011

Muammar Gaddafi is dead ... and so???

The world awoke this morning to the news that Muammar Gaddafi was killed in Libya. He got his wish - to die on Libyan soil.
       Shots have been ringing out from automatic weapons in Libya celebrating his death.
       The man we have loved to hate for many years is dead - what a relief. A time to celebrate. Right?
       Here is what I think many of us in the West do with a person like Gaddafi, especially when he is overthrown:
* We hope that "he gets what he deserves." Clearly Gaddafi has done horrible things in his 40 years in power. Somehow we hope he is punished in death for all of his wrong-doing;
* We assume that whoever or whatever replaces the dictator will be "better," since Gaddafi was so bad. The reality is that the dictator's removal makes the region all the more unstable and some pretty bad folks can step into the political vacuum. I think Egypt is figuring out that Mubarek may not have been so bad as people thought;
* Gaddafi was such a strong icon to evil, similar to how history looks at Adolf HItler. It is quite easy to demonize these people, to put on them the blame for much of what is wrong in the Muslim world. So if we just get rid of this one bad guy things will turn around in Islam.
       What is so often missing when someone like Gaddafi is killed is sadness, and compassion. Col. Muammar Gaddafi was a human being, with a wife (or more than one), a bunch of kids and grand kids. He was a nutcase in a lot of ways and harmed many, many people. But he was also a person in need of God, of God's grace, of forgiveness. Sounds a lot like me actually. May Muammar Gaddafi "rest in peace," as my Jewish brothers would say about someone who has died.

18 October 2011

Leadership by Neglect

This past weekend I drove from Cortland (NY) to Raquette Lake in the Adirondack Mountains. One of the images which struck me was the number of neglected and rundown barns and other structures. Upstate New York is littered with these eyesores.
       As I was looking at these buildings I began relating them to what I call "leadership by neglect." It's a bit like allowing a building to fall apart. Leaders sometimes get the attitude that it is easier to avoid issues or conflict with someone in their organization and just allow the relationship to slowly deteriorate.
       Sometimes leaders are uncertain what to do with a specific person on their team or in their congregation or organization so they simply ignore them. It's easy to do when you feel that you are busy with more pressing matters.
       I have been on both ends of "leadership by neglect." Being the leader and neglecting people has not been painful for me until someone pointed it out to me. I was fairly shocked by how hurt people felt by this sense of neglect. It was like a slow death. I am grieved by my own shortcomings as a leader that I have sometimes been neglectful of people.
       This hit home for me when I felt neglected as a part of a team/organization in recent years. It was difficult medicine to swallow - humbling, frustrating, confusing. Ultimately I have felt very sad at the lack of leadership on some people's part, but also understand it well.
       So I have renewed my focus to be an engaged leader - to be prayerful and mindful of the people who I am called to lead, to ask for feedback regularly from these people, to work on my communication in its various forms with people I am leading, and to find ways to be available to them formally and informally.

14 October 2011

Lewis Smedes on Forgiveness

Lew Smedes has had a major impact on my life. He was a mentor from a distance, one of the most humble and gentle people I had ever encountered. I came across this 3-minute video of him talking about forgiveness. And I remembered anew why he so impacted my life.

13 October 2011

After the "Arab Spring"

Some people in the West have cheered the revolutions in Egypt, Libya, and more recently in Syria (among other places).The "Arab Spring" has come to the Middle East and North Africa. I am no fan of dictators who have been overthrown, but we should not be naive about who or what will replace the tyranny.
       When I was in North Africa I was speaking with one of the imams about the political and social unrest in that part of the world. His country of Algeria has been spared the violence over the past year, unlike neighboring Tunisia and Libya. The imam reminded me that we "choose our poison," either living with the current regime or rolling the dice with future leaders (most of whom have been repressed and oppressed over the past 30 years or more).
     We live at a dangerous, critical, and hopeful time in the world, and especially in the Islamic nations. Certainly there is cause for concern about countries installing Sharia Law similar to Iran, and this week's riots in Egypt illustrate how volatile the situation is in places. And yet concern must not be replaced by fear, which triggers some people to demonize others and to seek their destruction.
       During the Cold War we used to talk about "Nuclear Winter." The other day I heard a Christian leader warn of an "Islam Winter" in which Muslims will overrun the Christian West.
       I beg to differ with this leader, on all sorts of levels. Most importantly, I see the possibility of a "Kingdom Summer" more than an "Islam Winter." I suppose it's all about perspective. Secondly, Jesus was very clear that His Kingdom would prevail, not any human system. Third, I have serious questions about whether the West is very Christian at all.
       We should be burdened by what is happening in Egypt, where Christians and Muslims are warring. And in Syria where a repressive regime is killing its own people. This is the place of the body of Christ, to pray and have compassion and to be givers of God's grace to people in need.

12 October 2011

Men @ Peace this coming weekend

This coming weekend I will be with some of the most wonderful guys I know and in one of the most beautiful places on earth. I will be teaching at the men's retreat of Grace Christian Fellowship of Cortland (my home church).
       Each year the church holds their men's retreat at Raquette Lake in the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York, at Huntington Camp which is owned by SUNY Cortland.
       This year I am especially excited about the topic of my talks, entitled, "Men@Peace." I am doing this in anticipation of the men at Grace Fellowship beginning Men's Fraternity after the retreat. Men's Frat is a great process to help men in their walk with Christ.
Sunrise and fog at Raquette Lake

11 October 2011

Upcoming Schedule: October-November

A friend reminded me the other day that I am traveling an awful lot these days. That is really true. Hopefully it is not too much.
       For those of you who read this blog, here is where I will be in the coming month in case you are in the same place.
* October 13-16: Raquette Lake, New York (teaching at men's retreat)
* October 17-18: Indianapolis (with Crescent Project)
* October 28-31: Cortland (Cortland State Alumni Association)
* November 2-6: Washington D.C. (Oasis Conference, check it out here)
* November 7-9: Indianapolis (with Crescent Project)
* November 11:  Denver (Friday Sabbath Celebration with community)

10 October 2011

New Pottery from Susy

This is a piece of pottery that Susy made for me for my birthday - in a word, AWESOME

09 October 2011

Taking Good Advice - Have a Bagel!

Today is my 49th birthday. It's a bit of an anti-climactic event actually. Next year is the big 5-0; 49 is just eh!
       My friend Rita (wonderful person that she is) wrote on my Facebook wall that I should go get a bagel with lox on it to start my birthday. I thought, "What a great idea!" So off I went early this morning to New York Bagel (yes, that is the real name of the closest bagel shop to my house), with my Denver Post newspaper in tow. And I sat at the bagel shop and had my bagel and lox and read the Post. A great start to the day.
       This year on my birthday I am struck by the words of Steve Jobs at the Stanford graduation in 2005. By now you have probably read or heard the words many times since Jobs' death earlier this week. "Your time is limited. So don't waste it living someone else's life."
       I don't want to waste a day of my life wondering what could have been or should have been. For the past year or more I have had a growing vision about what I have called "The Isaac-Ishmael Initiative." Some people have thought it's been a mid-life crisis, or that I am just wandering around after finishing up a pastoral position last year.
       The questions have been many - what is our theology around this hot-button issue of Jews and Muslims; what do I think about the nation of Israel and the Palestinians; why don't I move to Israel or Lebanon; why don't I go back to pastoring a church and/or developing leaders since dealing with the Jewish and Muslims issues is so thorny!
       Well, I am choosing to live amongst and between the Isaacs and Ishmaels of the world! There's a small band of us (Lebanese, French, Scottish, American, Dutch) who believe there is something "wild and crazy" that God wants to do in the Kingdom with Isaac and Ishmael, and how the Church relates to both.
       So in my 50th year of life that is what I am giving myself to - 100%. And if it seems foolish or absurd then perhaps I am right in the place God wants me to be!

04 October 2011

I Can't Wait to Read This Book!

Brennan Manning's memoir, "All is Grace" was published today. I cannot wait to read Manning's personal remembrances and reflections on his life.
Here is one of my favorite statements by Manning:
“The Christ within who is our hope of glory is not a matter of theological debate or philosophical speculation. He is not a hobby, a part-time project, a good theme for a book, or a last resort when all human effort fails. He is our life, the most real fact about us. He is the power and wisdom of God dwelling within us.” ~ The Ragamuffin Gospel     

02 October 2011

Safety, Security, and what I take for granted

One of the most fundamental human needs is to be safe from harm (bodily, emotional, etc.). Many westerners (myself included) take this SO for granted. It's easy to do when you are safe just about all the time, or at least we FEEL safe.
       I spent a week among the Saharawi people of Western Sahara in refugee camps between the borders of Algeria, Morocco, and Mauritania. If you have to go to Google Earth to figure out where I am talking about feel free to do so! it's not exactly on the way to anything.
       The place is desolate, a desert wasteland which now houses somewhere between 165,000 and 200,000 people from Western Sahara with no natural water source, no sanitation, and no natural vegetation.
       People live in mud huts and army tents. They also demarcate "their" property by building fences made of various things - tires, other car parts, cardboard. Somehow the human condition leads us to seek safety and security; we build fences even when they functionally do no good at keeping out intruders. But these make-shift fences give the refugees some sense of order and safety in the midst of one of the most unsafe places on earth.

29 September 2011

A Couple of First Thoughts from North Africa

I was in North Africa for a week for a three-day dialog with imams from the country. The "American Delegation" as we were called was made up of 7 people, most of whom have been doing this for six years now.
       There were 16 imams in attendance - they are mostly from Algiers.
       The last evening of the dialog we had a feast together. That's the photo to the right. It was a wonderful evening. I sat next to a young imam, Youcef, and we shared deeply about our lives.
       A few initial reflections come specifically from this meal together:
* First, this gathering was probably the most important of all the meetings we had. It was also the least formal. When we were in the formal dialog and there were other people observing, it felt like a chess match. Over dinner it felt like friendships.
* Second, there are striking similarities and agreement between Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. AND there are equally great, great differences which divide us. There is little middle ground here.
* Third, most of us in the West have images and impressions of Muslims and Islamic clerics which are only partially true. Or at the very least it is unfair to make sweeping generalizations about "all imams" or "all Muslims." I think we do that sometimes to justify our prejudice against a group of people.
       I have a lot more to process, and as I am able I will do so on this blog. I cannot process everything because some things are confidential. But many things in the dialogs were very public in Algeria and so can be public elsewhere.