31 January 2011

Signing Off for a Few Days

We are on the Ski Week in Switzerland with friends from Crossroads Amsterdam. So no posts from me. I'll be back online at the end of this week, no doubt with stories and pictures from the week.

30 January 2011

The Gift of a 25-Year Friendship

Susy and I spent a day in Geneva enroute to the ski retreat in the Alps. We had a very short visit with two of our dearest, long-time friends Marcus and Wendy.

Many of us have a friend or two in our lives as Marcus is to me. We have known each other for about a quarter-century. Marcus and Wendy drove us off from our wedding ceremony 23 years ago! We don't see each other often (last time was 5 years ago) but when we are reunited it's like we have not missed a moment. We just connect!
       Boy, it is just such a special relationship. Marcus and I walked up to the bakery in the morning and bought croissants to bring back to the house. We sat in the little cafe for a half hour and caught up on our lives. We could have stayed there for a couple of days and not gotten bored.
       The cool and "weird" thing is that we frequently over the years we are going through similar life-stage issues and challenges at the same time, so we help each other along as best we can. Or at least have a good laugh at the craziness of our lives.
       As we left Marcus and Wendy's house the other day I thought to myself, "this couple is such a gift of God to our family!" Yes indeed.

29 January 2011

The Privilege of Knowing Nate

Last weekend I spent a couple of days with our friend Nate. He and his family go way back with Susy to her teen years in Malibu.
       Nate has Alzheimer's, for about 5 or more years now. Susy helps care for him a couple of days per week, but last week she was at a training seminar while Shirley (Nate's wife) was away. So Nate and I hung out together for Friday and Saturday.
Circa 1994 - Nate and Shirley
with Steven at their house
in New Jersey
       It's difficult for me to capture the stature of Nate as a man. He has been married for 50+ years, four grown children, spent 30+ years in the U.S. Air Force, retiring as a Major General in 1993. I cannot even begin to list the commendations he received over his career, and he probably would not want me to. If you are interested in Nate's biography click HERE.
       These days life is different for Nate, and for all of us close to him. I have grown to know and appreciate him as he is today, and sort of have the luxury of having not known him that well decades ago.
       Nate is teaching me some important lessons as we interact and we help him with his daily routine. Here's some of the lessons:
  1. The gift of the "present moment" is all we truly have, whether we have memory loss or not;
  2. The phrase "dogs are a man's best friend" makes even more sense with Nate and my dog Bailey;
  3. One's dignity endures regardless of life circumstance. Nate is a person of tremendous dignity;
Maj. General Nate Lindsay
And so here is to you, Major General Nathan J. Lindsay!
It is an honor and privilege to be considered among your friends.

28 January 2011

Dessert Tonight in GENEVA

To Our Friends in the GENEVA area -
Dessert and coffee tonight at the Orsi's place in Onex, 1900hr. If you have not received an invitation for this "gala event" this is is: YOU ARE INVITED! Love for you to stop by!
At the home of Marcus and Wendy Orsi in Onex.
Call my cell phone for directions: +31 6 292 74 003.

27 January 2011

There and Back Again

Susy and I are enroute to Geneva at the moment. We have a layover in Washington Dulles. We are waiting in a lounge, eating free food from United Airlines.
       Traveling together to Europe has gotten me thinking. I'm reminded of the sub-title to Tolkien's The Hobbitt... "there and back again."
       I don't feel as if I am going home to Europe, although Geneva and Amsterdam have been our homes in the past. But I also don't feel like I am leaving home in Denver to go to Europe.
      So I guess the phrase "there and back again" is an apt description of my soul at the moment. I'm glad to have been there in the past and I'm glad to be going back again.

A Film That Captured My Heart

These days I am finding it difficult to articulate what is in my heart about Jews, Muslims, Christians and the relational dynamics between them.
       I often feel misunderstood, probably because I am not totally clear on my vision yet and because there is such dramatic division among these children of Abraham.
       This week I watched the film, "Arranged" and my heart was warmed, stirred. It touched a nerve in me that helps me picture the world I desire to live in, found in the lives of a Muslim woman and Jewish woman who are teachers in New York City.
       If you have a chance, watch this film (it's on Netflix, available to watch online). It will warm your heart ... or at least help you capture a bit of my inner world these days.

26 January 2011

Lebanon Erupts in New Power Struggle

The politics of the Middle East is anything but simple and straightforward. This most recent twist in the road in Lebanon is alarming.
       The Hizballah are making a play to take over the Lebanese government. Protests have erupted in the past two days by Sunni Muslims in Beirut. Read the Time article here.
Lebanon in Flames as Sunnis Challenge Hizballah Power Play
       If you are someone who prays please do so.

25 January 2011

Tim Keller on Religion's Slippery Slope

Those of us who consider ourselves "religious" or "people of faith" have a problem. A big problem. It's called religion. Listen to Tim Keller's 90-second explanation of the slippery slope to oppression. He had got it right.

24 January 2011

Islam in France

It's common knowledge that the fastest growing population in Europe is people from Islamic countries and backgrounds. In some countries - Sweden, the Netherlands, Belgium among others - the population shift is dramatic.
       Many people are deeply alarmed by this trend. Politicians from the far right are being elected in some countries because they are running on anti-immigration platforms. Various EU commissions are trying to create policies which provide some control of immigration. There is much talk about how people assimilate (or don't) into cultures.
       I believe that these immigration trends offer one of the greatest Kingdom opportunities the Church has seen since the Reformation. Rather than being driven by fear we have the chance for cultures to meet (and certainly clash at times) and for people to be introduced to Jesus in free western societies.
       This is all full of challenges and there is resistance for sure. Islam as a religion is evangelistic, just as Christianity is. Europeans are hungry for spirituality, and some are converting to Islam. I'm not advocating converting to Islam. I'm just saying this is the reality we are living in and we need to engage rather than retreat.

23 January 2011

On "Wandering on Purpose"

My preparation for speaking on the SnowTrip in a week's time has brought me to the book of Nehemiah in the Old Testament.
       Nehemiah was a forced wanderer. He was exiled from Jerusalem with the rest of his people and sent to Babylon (today's Iraq).
       He followed God's lead into a nomadic life, which is a great step of faith to begin with. And then he follows God to return to the land, to re-establish His people.
       My friend Brian Rice posted some quotes from Jean-Pierre de Cassuade which speaks so well to this issue of wandering. It has resonated deeply with me.
"God's action is forever new.
It never retraces its steps
but always marks out new paths.
Those who are led in this way
never know where they are going.
Their roads are to be found
neither in books nor in their minds . . ."

- Jean-Pierre de Cassuade

22 January 2011

Preparation for Ski Week Teaching

Susy and I are heading to Switzerland in a week to be with 40+ people from Crossroads Amsterdam for their annual ski retreat. We are staying in the village of Stechelberg at Alpenhof chalet.(see photo - not too shabby digs!)
       I am preparing three talks/interactions for the group on a few evenings. I've called it, "Wandering on Purpose" (or, "Not all who wander are lost" from Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings"). We will look at 3 themes in Nehemiah to consider how God leads us to His purposes through our life's wanderings.
       It's exciting for us to be together in such an awesome place as the Swiss Alps with good friends - from long ago and those we do not yet know. It should be a blast!

21 January 2011

Benefit Concert Tonight

If you are in Denver please join us this evening for a benefit concert for women in the Dominican Republic.
       Check out the website HERE. The concert will be held at Lookout Mountain Community Church in Golden (Genesee), just off exit 254 of I-70 beginning at 7:00 pm.

A group of women and girls from churches in Denver are traveling to La Victoria, Dominican Republic February 4-11, 2011. They plan to enter into community with the women to  show God's extravagant love. Their hope is to present ideas and ways in which they can create something that will be income producing for them. To read the details of this mission trip go to this link for the support letter.

20 January 2011

JFK's Inauguration 50 Years Ago Today

Fifty years ago today John Fitzgerald Kennedy was inaugurated as the 35th president of the United States. The speech is best known for the iconic phrase, "Ask not what your country can do for you ..." But just minutes earlier Kennedy said this to Americans:

       "So let us begin anew—remembering on both sides that civility is not a sign of weakness, and sincerity is always subject to proof. Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate.
       Let both sides explore what problems unite us instead of belaboring those problems which divide us.
       Let both sides, for the first time, formulate serious and precise proposals for the inspection and control of arms—and bring the absolute power to destroy other nations under the absolute control of all nations.
      Let both sides seek to invoke the wonders of science instead of its terrors. Together let us explore the stars, conquer the deserts, eradicate disease, tap the ocean depths, and encourage the arts and commerce.
      Let both sides unite to heed in all corners of the earth the command of Isaiah—to "undo the heavy burdens ... and to let the oppressed go free."

Well said, Mr. President.

19 January 2011

Dr. Craig Blomberg at Lookout Tonight

Dr. Craig Blomberg, distinguished professor of New Testament at Denver Seminary, is doing a seminar tonight at our church, Lookout Mountain Community Church in Genesee. He is speaking on, "Neither Poverty nor Riches: A Biblical Theology of Possessions."
       Blomberg has studied and written extensively on wealth and poverty and the proper value of possessions in life. If you are in Denver you do not want to miss this. The seminar will be from 6:30 to 8:00pm in the fellowship hall at Lookout. No RSVP is necessary. Just show up!

18 January 2011

Distortions Created in Our Cyber-World

According to my Facebook account I have 687 "friends" as of today. Ya right, and I have great swampland for sale in Florida!
       What is more sad than thinking I have 687 friends is hoping for 13 more people to "friend" me so I can reach 700! Then I can be in the "700 Club." Oh wait, that's a TV show.
       Here's another distortion of our cyber-world. On Skype I can make myself "invisible." Wow, isn't that great? I can see you but you cannot see me. So for all you invisible people on my Skype contact list, "come out come out wherever you are!" I promise to keep myself visible on Skype and not disappear to my friends. After all, some of us have abandonment issues.

17 January 2011

David Brooks on Civility

Our country and our world lacks civil discourse, to the extreme. This is the best description of civility I have ever read.
"Civility is a tree with deep roots, and without the roots, it can’t last. So what are those roots? They are failure, sin, weakness and ignorance." ~ David Brooks, New York Times editorial

16 January 2011

Three Cheers for Francis Chan

Francis Chan of Cornerstone Church in Simi Valley, California recently stepped down from his role as senior pastor to pursue his calling in the Kingdom. Francis is a great preacher and the church grew large over the years because of this preaching gift.
      The following interview with Francis discusses why he left the church. Mark Driscoll is one of the interviewers. Mark is the pastor of a large multi-site church in Seattle. Francis' vision and courage is so incredibly inspiring to me. Mark's myopic and small view of the pastor's role is ... well, less than Kingdom minded, in my view.

What's Next for Francis Chan? Conversation with Mark Driscoll and Joshua Harris from The Gospel Coalition on Vimeo.

15 January 2011

On Preaching again

I used to think that preaching was about communicating truth and people understanding (gaining knowledge) - and that usually took about 40 minutes (but preferably 30 minutes).
I used to think that preaching was about what God had me say to a community about Him.
I have had a change of heart and mind.
Now I think preaching is a small part of the people of God entering into this mysterious process of WORSHIP.
I think preaching is about being part of people asking God's light to shine in their darkness.
I think preaching is about creating the environment for people to experience God and His mercy in their sabbath rest.
I have some major doubts about what I have to say and more confidence in God seeking out His people - with or without my involvement.

14 January 2011

A Great Self-Awareness Test

My friend Miriam showed me this video about how difficult it is to see something when you are not looking for it. This is exactly THE issue for all of us called to lead. Self-awareness and self-observation are key to being a healthy, character-driven leader. But our blind spots and our inability to reflect on our growth areas can be great hindrances.

13 January 2011

Getting to Yes - With Abraham!

This is an incredible video about "getting to yes," using the story of Abraham as the prime example for creating peace. This video is longer - about 18 minutes - but well worth it. It's from the good folks at TED.

12 January 2011

A National Hero Passes From Earth

Major Richard Winters of the 101st Airborne Division from World War II died on January 2, 2011. He was 92 years old.
       Winters is the leader of Easy Company in the mini-series "Band of Brothers." He led his men for more than 3 years through the most grueling situations imaginable in the theater of war.
       When someone of this stature and leadership passes from earth it is good to pause and be grateful for their lives, and what they contributed to so many people around them.
       Well done on this earth, Major Winters.

11 January 2011

Ministry Economics #3: Lay Offs and Severance Pay

I have had the misfortune of having to shrink a church budget quickly and, consequently, lay off people. The numbers in this situation were staggering - a $1.6 million payroll needed to be reduced to less than $1 million in 6 weeks. Ugh.
       Churches and ministries over-extend themselves and then have to make cuts. In the recent economic downturn it has become even more pronounced.
       I have found that lay offs and severance pay are similar i the Christian world as they are in the "secular" world. And that saddens me.
* A pastor's position is cut by 50% and he decides to negotiate with the elders for a "buy out." He will resign if they will pay severance for 6 months.
* A pastor is removed by his denomination for theological error and is given many months severance pay. He moves down the road and starts a church within 2 months. If my math is correct, that pastor has TWO salaries for a bunch of months.
       Some years ago a former employee threatened to sue the church where I was serving. We all signed papers that we would not discuss the matter with anyone for a number of years. She received a settlement of several months pay.
       Another employee (a female) hired a lawyer to determine if she had been under-paid and if a case could be made for sexual discrimination. She HAD been under-paid, she had a case! (why would a church underpay someone due to their sexuality?) The church agreed to pay her several months salary and health benefits in exchange for her agreeing to never sue the church.
       Are we having fun yet? If you are still reading this post you may think that I am totally crazy or that Christian institutions are pretty messed up. Perhaps both is true.
       The people who I mentioned above all believe in Jesus, and the power of His Kingdom. Some are Reformed, other Pentecostal, some believe that in the end ALL are saved because Jesus said "I am making all things new."
       If in fact he is making all things new, then he has a lot of work to do with us bumbling Christian workers in how we treated one another in the midst of institution.

For You Dog Lovers ...

I love this sign - saw it in an airport on one of my trips recently. Minneapolis maybe?

10 January 2011

A Travel "Comedy of Errors"

If you have had a bad day you might want to read this and maybe feel better. I am traveling from Denver to Baltimore today – maybe, kind of sorta. Here is my woeful tale:
       A snowstorm was heading to town yesterday so I decided to stay at a hotel near the Denver airport last night. Great idea, thanks to my awesome wife. We drove Carly out to the airport in the afternoon for her flight to California and Susy dropped me at the hotel. Problem was that I had forgotten my jacket at home (30+ minutes away) and it was snowing now. We drove home and I cancelled the hotel reservation, opting to just sleep at home and get up early in the morning and head to the airport then.
       This morning I woke at 5am and planned to take the public bus from Lakewood to the airport. The bus left at 6:07am. I arrived at 6:10am, missing that bus. I waited for the next bus, the 6:37am, which picked up 20 minutes late due to snow.
       The bus CRAWLED its way along into the center of Denver, ever so slowly. Suddenly I felt violently ill, as if I would puke and crap all over the place at once! I asked the bus driver to let me off at the Greyhound bus station and I would take the next bus. I rushed into the public bathroom, filled with homeless guys, and did my business. A homeless guy says to me as fluids are coming out of my body, "I know how you feel!" Classic!
       I called United Airlines and told them I would not make my 9am flight and they said it was no problem and there is a 10am flight. I changed my flight with no issue.
       Then I waited at Greyhound for the next bus. It was supposed to come in 30 minutes. Not quite! 75 minutes later it arrived, at 8:25am. I have a flight at 10:00am, normal travel time from Greyhound to the airport is 45 minutes. Still enough time.
       Until we drove on snowy Interstate 70 the 10 miles east of the city to get to the airport - at 10 miles per hour.
       I arrived at the airport at 9:45am for a 10:07am flight. My seat had been given away. I needed to get on the next flight.
       That is at 11:53am. But It’s sold out... and goes via Chicago. I'm on standby for that.
       There is a 4:20pm flight. But it’s sold out too.
       There is a 7:53pm flight that has seats! YEA! It arrives in Balitmore at 12:45am, like almost the middle of the night.
       Now I am waiting at Denver Airport to see if I get on the flight to Chicago ... sitting very close to the men’s room so that I can dart in there at a moment’s notice. There are no homeless people in this bathroom though.
       Sure wish I had remembered my jacket yesterday.

Off to York, PA Today

I am really looking forward to my trip to the East Coast beginning today. I am going to be with my good friend Brian Rice and folks at Leadership ConneXtions and Living World Community Church.
       It's always encouraging and challenging for me to be with these friends. They are lifelong learners, seeking how to follow Jesus more closely, how to do mission in ways that help people the most. Just great people - a lot of fun and laughs too!

09 January 2011

Lead Stories on Al Jazeera TV

These were the top three lead stories on the English version of Al Jazeera TV today, in this exact order:
1. The shooting of 20 people by a deranged man in Arizona;
2. Plane crash in Iran kills at least 70 people;
3. First day of voting in Southern Sudan (on secession) goes smoothly.
       It's interesting to begin to grasp how people in other parts of the world perceive America, and why some are fearful.
       I realize that some of you reading this will disagree with me strongly, and might wonder why I am watching Al Jazeera TV (it comes on PBS at 5pm on Sundays here). So let's be gracious with each other even as we might disagree. I will try to do the same.

Am I a "Messianic Jew?"

I am starting a new project called The Isaac-Ishmael Initiative, as some of you know. The focus is on promoting shalom among Jews and Muslims. Simple, right?
       As soon as I began to dive into this volatile issue, questions came my way. Good questions, hard questions, though-provoking questions. Here's a major one:
       "You are a Jew. What kind of Jew are you?" This question is asked with the unspoken backdrop of, "Have you lost your mind? Are you nuts? A Jew wanting shalom with Muslims? What kind of Jew are you?"
       My answer is this: Yes, I am a Jew. I was born a Jew, I will die a Jew (as my father says often).
       I am a Jew who follows a Rabbi. His name is Jesus (Y'shua). I'm sold out to him, just as a student of a rabbi in the first century would be sold out to their rabbi.
       So am I a "Messianic Jew?" Technically, yes. But I have not associated very much with the messianic movement. And I doubt I will begin doing so. There are two issues that keep me at arm's length from Jewish people who believe Jesus is the Messiah. While we agree on that central fact, we often disagree on these two things:
       First, I don't have a dispensational theology. While I believe the Jews still have a vital place in God's redemptive story, I do not believe the Church and Israel are necessarily so distinct peoples of God. And I do not believe that the Church Age is some sort of parenthesis in history;
       Second, I am largely agnostic about today's nation of Israel and it's relationship to Israel of the Old Testament. Please hear me on this: I certainly believe that Israel has a right to exist, that there is a legitimate and important place for the modern Israeli state. However, I also believe the Palestinians have the same rights and that the global community of nations needs to be equally committed to the peace of Israel and Palestine. The Palestinians are God's people as much as the Israelis.
       Sometimes I feel like this initiative is simply CRAZY. But if the Kingdom of God is truly THE ultimate Kingdom, we can expect God to do "crazy" things. "With man it is impossible, with God all things are possible," Jesus said.

08 January 2011

Egypt's Muslims as "human shields"

By definition "news" is almost always "bad news." It's not news unless there is tragedy, suffering, or pain.
In Egypt this week there was an exception to the rule - A story of Muslims offering to lay down their lives for Christians. Really? Yes, really. Check out the story.
Egypt's Muslims attend Coptic Christmas mass, serving as "human shields"

07 January 2011

An Encouraging Skype Call

I had an amazing Skype call with my long-time friend Marcus in Geneva the other day. Susy and I have known Marcus and Wendy for some 25 years - we are kindred spirits in so many ways. There are few people in the world with whom I laugh harder than with Marcus and Wendy.
       Unfortunately we don't get to spend time with them too often. Oceans and countries separate us. But when we DO get to speak or be together it is like we have been together all the time! It is uncanny really.
       So Marcus and I are on this Skype call the other day for an hour. Mind you we have not spoken in many months. And we are talking about our futures, what God is stirring in us, questions we are each wrestling with. And Marcus says a few "prophetic" things and I am like, "SHUT UP!" Well not really. But it was like the voice of God speaking to me and Marcus doesn't have a clue how God is using him. Marcus is saying things which he would not otherwise know because we have not hung out together over the past years.
       The really fun part of this is that Susy and I will be in Geneva for a day in late January and we will get some time with Marcus and Wendy face-to-face. Quite the special treat for us really! Can't wait.

06 January 2011

"Feeding the Pig"

I often puzzle over consumerism. The U.S. government says that two-thirds of the economy of this country is due to consumers spending money. When the economy is improving it is because people are spending like mad men!
       There is something fundamentally wrong with this picture.
So I figure if I cannot beat it I will join it! Yep, that's right. I am diving into consumerism head first, rolling up my sleeves to spend, spend, spend! Hmmmm, for some reason I am not feeling better about myself!
       Well here's an alternative. The good folks at FEEDING THE PIG are all about being realists that we ARE consumers, actually addicted to our consumer tendencies. So Feeding the Pig helps you be a FRUGAL consumer. They give tons of tips on breaking spending habits, free saving tips, and how to "feed" the piggy bank. SAVINGS is really their focus, but they address consumerism as a way to get to saving.
       SO here is to 2011 and "feeding the pig!"

05 January 2011

Paul Newman's SERIOUS Philanthropy

Paul Newman's legacy on earth will be experienced for generations to come. Newman died in September 2008, but not before he established himself as one of the greatest philanthropists in history.
       When Newman and his wife Joanne Woodward launched the Newman's Own salad dressing line they committed to give ALL the profits away from the company - forever! According to Newman's Foundation they have given away more than $300 million to a wide variety of causes.
       We need so many more people and foundations like Newman's Own Foundation. We need people who are more serious about their philanthropy than they are about their business or personal stability.
       Paul Newman has been dead for more than 2 years. His company continues to bless hundreds of thousands of people every year.
       Here's Paul Newman in his own words:

  • "Our work begins with the strong belief that giving back is the greatest opportunity and responsibility for making ours a better world."
  • “I’d like to be remembered as a guy who tried — tried to be part of his times, tried to help people communicate with one another, tried to find some decency in his own life, tried to extend himself as a human being.”

  • “We’re very effective recyclers; we take the money and give it back.”

Paul Newman Tribute Video from Frank M. Siringo on Vimeo.

04 January 2011

Our Tendency to Pigeon-Hole

I grew up with the notion that all Arabs area Muslims and all Muslims are Arabs. And all of them are the arch enemies of my people - Jews that is. I don't remember being taught to put Arab Muslims on the top of the list of people to despise; I guess I learned it by osmosis.
       These days I am becoming more sensitized to the gross generalizations we make about people groups, how we pigeon-hole a culture or religion and paint them in very black and white terms. Here's a classic case-in-point from one of the protests in New York City a while ago over the Muslim Community Center being built at Ground Zero.

03 January 2011

Upcoming Schedule

Lots of great things are happening in the next month or two. Check back on my blog to hear about some of the things I will be doing. Here's my schedule right now:
  • 6-9 January: Attending Gay Christian Network conference in Denver (might raise a few questions I realize);
  • 11-15 January: Visit with Brian Rice and Leadership ConneXtions in Pennsylvania;
  • 15-16 and 22-23 January: Preaching at Lookout Mountain Church;
  • 27 Jan - 4 Feb: Susy and I in Switzerland on ski week with 40+ Crossroads Amsterdam folks. Brian is leading Bible studies in evenings;
  • 5-6 February: Attend Board of Directors meeting for SUNY Cortland's Alumni Association;
  • 10-11 February: "The Holocaust and the Bible" conference at Denver Seminary;
  • 13 February: Beginning five-week course I am teaching, "Isaac and Ishmael: Together and Apart" at Lookout Mountain Church;
  • 14-18 February: In Los Angeles for Fuller Seminary course, "Witness in Muslim Contexts."

02 January 2011

Pursuing Dreams - Even If They're Crazy!

One of my all-time favorite movies is "Billy Elliot," about a young boy who has a dream to be a dancer - ballet to be exact. Billy pursues his vision even though he is ridiculed by his father and others. His father thinks Billy has lost his mind - Billy is relentless. Inspiring indeed. Check out this clip from the film.

Billy Elliot clip 1 from Brian Newman on Vimeo.