30 April 2011

We made the cover of Time ... for the wrong reasons!

We Christians made the cover of Time magazine last week! Great, right?
       Or not.
       The story concerns whether there is a hell or not. Many thanks to Rob Bell and his publisher for putting Evangelical Christians in the news. It's just too bad that the issue we are becoming known for is so speculative and mysterious and is NOT the main thing!
       My brother quotes Dallas Willard on his blog the other day: "Nothing fails quite like success.” This is so, so true. It's very difficult not to be influenced by six-figure book signings, which Bell received before Love Wins was published.
       It is very difficult to resist the lure of a growing church with cash flowing in because of the giftedness and appeal of a speaker. Simply put, it is the rare individual who can ride the wave of success and not stumble badly in the process.

29 April 2011

My Dogs Stress Me Out at the Vet!

I brought both my wonder-dogs - aka Bailey and Angel - to the vet the other day to get their annual heartworm check (see photo at left of them in the examination room).
       Every year when I do this I vow to NEVER, EVER bring these two canines to the vet together, because it is sheer CHAOS every time I do so! But, alas, I forget from year to year.
       This week was no less chaotic than previous years. We walked into the waiting room and there were two miniature dogs (they looked like overgrown rats) and they started barking like nut cases!
      In typical fashion, Angel the old lady puts her tail between her legs and starts whimpering. I want to say to her, "Angel, you can kick those dogs down the street with a swipe of your tail! Get some courage old girl!"
      At the very same time that Angel starts whimpering Bailey starts barking and growling like a caged lion. She is yanking on her leash so that my arm feels like it's about to fall off. I think to myself, "Someone give this animal a tranquilizer please!"
      Well all was fine with the dogs - no heartworms - and they even did OK with getting their temperature taken with the rectal thermometer!
       Next year I HAVE to remember to take the dogs to the vet separately!

28 April 2011

In Memoriam: David Wilkerson

I just heard the news that David Wilkerson, founder of Times Square Church, was killed in a car crash in Texas today. This impacts me on a number of levels, but especially because I am close friends with Wilkerson's daughter and son-in-law, Bonnie and Roger. I pray for God to comfort the family in this time.
        Earlier today before his death, Rev. Wilkerson's organization, World Challenge, posted a devotional by him. You can read it here. These are the final recorded words of a man who finished well with God and in his mission on earth:

"To those going through the valley and shadow of death, hear this word: Weeping will last through some dark, awful nights—and in that darkness you will soon hear the Father whisper, 'I am with you. I cannot tell you why right now, but one day it will all make sense. You will see it was all part of my plan. It was no accident. It was no failure on your part. Hold fast. Let me embrace you in your hour of pain.'
Beloved, God has never failed to act but in goodness and love. When all means fail—his love prevails. Hold fast to your faith. Stand fast in his Word. There is no other hope in this world."

27 April 2011

The Best Advice I Got as a Senior Pastor

In 2001 I became a senior pastor of a church - Crossroads Church in Amsterdam. I was in that role for five years. Before taking the position I asked several senior pastors what advice they would give me as I entered into this new role. One bit of counsel stuck with me.
       "Find a very good therapist and start seeing him regularly," said one of the pastors.
       "But I'm not that messed up!" I protested. "I wouldn't know what to talk about with such a person?"
       The pastor responded, "Well, first of all, you probably ARE that messed up but don't know it. And if you are NOT very messed up you will be within a year of becoming a senior pastor."
       He was right on both counts - I discovered that I AM that messed up, and became even more messed up being a senior pastor.
       Since 2001 I have been helped by two exceptional therapists - one in Holland and the other in Denver. Over those 10 years I have regularly seen a therapist for more than half that time.
       Perhaps you are reading this and saying, "Phew, I'm glad I'm not screwed up like Brian is!" But if you are still reading, I have three considerations for you about this:
       First, I truly want to finish well in life and ministry and need help with my psychological/emotional well-being. I cannot do this on my own;
       Second, I have spoken with senior pastors who seek counseling because they feel like they (the pastor) has been victimized by an elder board, congregation, or denomination. So they find a counselor who often validates their victimization. This is a bad bad use of a counselor;
       Third, "power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely." Being a senior pastor can be heady stuff, and is not grounded very well in reality. People sometimes confuse a pastor's giftedness and talent with his or her character and inner life. I have found that a good counselor helps mitigate against this phenomenon.
       I don't have a lot of this figured out, but I do know that two therapists have helped me a whole lot on my journey over the past decade and I am grateful for them.

26 April 2011

N.T. Wright and The Challenge of Jesus

       A significant part of the vision of The Isaac-Ishmael Initiative which I am launching is about being God's image bearers. And this is also our vocation, as N.T. Wright says. This has "crazy" consequences, such as Jews and Muslims coming together in and through Jesus to worship Him and to love each other. Crazy, I know.
       My inspiration is from Wright's book, The Challenge of Jesus. Check out this quote.
"The key is that humans are made in the image of God.
That is the equivalent, on the wider canvas, of Israel's unique position and vocation.
And bearing God's image is not just a fact, it is a vocation.
It means being called to reflect into the world
the creative and redemptive love of God.
It means being made for relationship,
for stewardship, for worship -
or, to put it more vividly, for sex, gardening and God."
~ N.T. Wright, The Challenge of Jesus

25 April 2011

Church as Industry

We went to our home church, Lookout Mountain, for the sunrise service yesterday. Later in the morning we went to Flatirons Church near Boulder for one of their six services in their new 4,000-seat facility.
       Back in 2005-2006 I spent a lot of time at Flatirons when they were in transition between lead pastors. I did some consulting there and preached a number of times. Prior to the previous senior pastor leaving the church had about 5,000 people attending. It then fell to about 3,500 before Jim Burgen became lead pastor.
       This weekend they had 6 services over Saturday and Sunday and probably more than 20,000 people in attendance (it was Easter however).
       I am torn about Flatirons after being there yesterday. First, some things that I appreciate:
* I thought the worship was theologically solid (loud, guitar-driven - I used ear plugs!);
* The message by Jim and the follow up to Communion by Scott was clear, concise, and honored the Biblical account of Jesus' resurrection very well;
* Flatirons has showed that it desires to "give themselves away" to the local community and around the world;
* They are evangelistic in a good way, focusing on people who are far from God.
       I am left scratching my head about some things that came to the surface in being at Flatirons again:
- I appreciate that Flatirons knows their "target audience," but I wonder if the light and smoke show is that necessary to reach them and I wonder what it says about worship;
- The financial cost of putting on a worship service is astronomical and I wonder if that is ultimately wise stewardship;
- Here's my biggest concern: Flatirons is a "one-stop shop" where you get every service you can think of - children's ministry, youth ministry, college ministry, single parents. If you have a need or desire it will be met at Flatirons. It's like going to a mall and finding every store that you want and consuming in great quantity.
       My critique is not of Flatirons specifically, but rather I am wrestling with the large church model which is so prevalent in America. Flatirons does many things in a great manner and touches people for the Kingdom every week. I respect their ministry in many ways. And yet I am left with some questions which I need to ask and consider deeply.

22 April 2011

A Different Kind of Seder

Last night's seder at my church changed for me in an instant when I was introduced to a guest who simply showed up because she was looking for a Passover seder in town.
       She is relatively new to Denver; a reformed (liberal) Jewish woman from South Africa. She googled "Passover Seder Denver" and ours came up! Way to go, Google! She found a seat at the table where Susy and I were seated, so we spent the entire evening with her over the meal.
       The moment I started to talk to our guest I thought about the Haggadah in my hand which I recently finished writing. There I was thinking, "Have I communicated well about Jesus? Is the Gospel clear? Is there anything unnecessarily offensive to a Jewish person?"
       What I realized after the seder was that I felt so ALIVE through the evening because of our new friend who found her way to our seder tonight. A friend reminded me afterward that seeds are planted and watered in people's hearts on evenings like this. God's ways are not our ways. Pretty amazing.

21 April 2011

Images from First Passover Night

We celebrated the Passover Seder Tuesday night with 30 people at our friends' Jamie and Carol's place. Here's some images from the evening.

20 April 2011

Columbine ... 12 years later

Twelve years ago today two students at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado went on a rampage killing 12 students and a teacher.
       The scene of that massacre is about south 5 miles of our house. In fact, Steven and I umpire baseball games at Clement Park which sits adjacent to Columbine High. Last weekend we umpired on a baseball field that sits right on the edge of the Columbine Memorial. Look out into centerfield and you see the mounds of dirt which mark the beginning of the Memorial area.
       Today I will go to the Columbine Memorial - along with hundreds of other people - to remember the 15 lives lost on that tragic day. While I do not have any personal connection with the people who lost their lives, I feel strongly about the sanctity of all life. This is a time to ask God to protect His creation, that future Columbines will not happen.

19 April 2011

Reflecting on Pesach

Today is the first night of Passover. We are hosting a seder with about 30 people at a friend's house. It will be the first time I am using the Haggadah which I recently wrote and got printed. Quite frankly I am a bit nervous about using this booklet as I share some personal reflections on the Passover in my life.
       For the past few days I have done a lot of reflecting on Israel's slavery in Egypt, God rescuing them, and the people eventually wandering in the desert for 40 years.
       I doubt that the likes of John Grisham could write a more suspenseful story than what is found in the book of Exodus. What makes it most suspenseful to me is not whether God will save the people, but rather if the people will have the courage to leave Egypt and enter the desert/wilderness. Will Israel obey and follow God from slavery to places unseen and unknown?
       I suppose that is the question for all time: Will we leave our "Egypts" (whatever that may be in our lives) to the wild unknown with God?

15 April 2011

Only in America

Can someone explain to me "fat-free half & half?" I think this is one of those "Only in America" types of things. Isn't it an oxymoron to reduce the fat from half & half?
       This is one of those things that Andy Rooney should speak about at the end of a 60 Minutes show.

14 April 2011

Haggadah First Edition Complete

The first edition of the Passover Haggadah that I have written is done, and ready for printing now. For those of you who will be coming to the Seder at Lookout Mountain Community Church next Thursday eve we will be using this Haggadah.
       If you are interested in getting a copy of the Haggadah please let me know and we will arrange it.

12 April 2011

Bobby Clinton - Back to Basics

Brian with Bobby Clinton
I attended Bobby Clinton's retirement celebration last night. It was a great evening in many, many ways. Bobby spoke briefly, highlighting six core leadership values that he hopes is part of his legacy.
       Three of these values hit me right between the eyes, and were a sobering reminder about my own leadership:
   1) Leadership ultimately flows out of being more than doing;
   2) Over a lifetime a leader must be transformed into the image of Christ by the Holy Spirit;
   3) A leader should minister with gifted power, i.e. through spiritual authority.
       I sat at a table with Terry Walling and Frank Hankins, two men with whom I studied under Bobby 20 years ago. These two guys are walking out these values in their own lives and it was a special time to be with them and see how God is working in their lives.
       Here was my "gut level" response to the evening - I feel grateful to God that He put Bobby (and Marilyn!) Clinton in my life. I also felt small this evening - small in the context of how big God is and how He uses people. And small in the midst of leaders such as Bobby, Terry, and Frank who are living out these values more fully than I am at the moment. Just talking honestly here.
Leadership Guys: Paul, Terry, Bobby, and Brian

11 April 2011

Retirement Dinner for Bobby Clinton

I am in Los Angeles for a day for the retirement dinner for Dr. Bobby Clinton who has taught leadership at Fuller Seminary for many years. Some of you reading this blog (and others) have been impacted by Bobby's teaching and approach to leadership, even if you do not know him.
       Bobby has had a tremendous impact on my life and leadership for the past 20 years. It is a privilege to be invited to his retirement celebration this evening. I am sure it will be bittersweet.
       I'll say more on my blog about the celebration in the days ahead.

08 April 2011

I Found a Designer!

I found a graphic designer for the Passover Haggadah. He's living in Barcelona. Doesn't that sound so cool?
Seriously, I'm excited my friend Justin is able to jump into this project somewhat last minute. He's also a great photographer so maybe a few of his photos will show up in the Haggadah! (hint hint, Justin)
You can check out Justin's blog at Urban Idealist.

07 April 2011

Draft of Haggadah

The first draft of the Passover Haggadah is done. I've got my nose into the editing and then proofreading process. Brings me back to my journalism days.
       Next week it's off to the graphic designer/layout folks. Almost ready!

06 April 2011

An Umpire's Journal: Missing a Call

For those of you who are baseball fans, you will remember the now infamous missed called at first base by umpire Jim Joyce (see photo at right). He called a runner safe when he was out and that would have been the last out of the game AND it would have been a perfect game for the pitcher. Joyce commented after the game that he had "kicked the sh-- out of the call," meaning that he had totally blown it.
       Well I blew a call last night at a game. I called a balk on a left-handed pitcher when I should not have done so. The coaches jumped all over me and I defended my call to them when they came up to me to discuss it at the end of the game.
       Then I came home and asked Steven about the play, and I looked online about balk calls on lefties. I blew it - I was wrong!
       During training umpires learn that "the umpire is always right." As an umpire you don't admit that you made a bad call, at least not during the game. The problem with this philosophy is that umpires are NOT always right! We're human, we miss calls sometimes. It's part of the game.
       Tomorrow is another day, and another game. There will be a whole bunch of calls to make in that game. Time to move on from today's game.

05 April 2011

One Shining Moment

The NCAA basketball tournament is over and the Connecticut Huskies are the unlikely champions. I absolutely love this sports event and I have been totally into the games over the past couple of weeks.
       I have been so impressed with the Butler Coach, Brad Stevens, who at the young age of 34 has brought his team to the final game two years in a row. His brief interview after the game for full of humility and pride for his team.
       And then the tournament ends with the annual rendition of Luther Vandross' "One Shining Moment" as the highlights from the many games roll across the screen. And as it happens each year, I get all teary-eyed watching it.
Man, I love March Madness!

04 April 2011

Focus in April

I find it helpful on the first Monday of each month to "take stock" of the next 30 days. Not that I can pre-determine what will happen, but rather to have an attitude of Moses' words in Psalm 90:
Teach us to number our days,
that we may gain a heart of wisdom. (v. 12)
May the favor of the Lord our God rest on us;
establish the work of our hands for us -
yes, establish the work of our hands. (v. 17)

       So, here's some things I anticipate and am grateful to be involved with -
* Susy's and my 23rd anniversary is on April 23rd! (thinking of something fun to do together);
* Passion Week is April 18-24: BIG week with two Passover seders, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday;
* Celebration dinner of Bobby and Marilyn Clinton with their mentorees at Fuller Seminary on April 11th;
* Visit with Leadership ConneXtions friends in York, PA from April 12-14th;
* Visit with Crescent Project friends in Indianapolis on April 27-28th;
       Lots of preparation and writing this month:
* Writing, editing, and producing first draft of the Passover Seder Haggadah;
* Preparing for the Amsterdam Missions Trip at the end of May;
* By the end of April I hope to finalize summer ministry/travel for June through August;
       Along the way I will be umpiring a lot of baseball, most weekends with Steven as we work tournaments together.
P.S. to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS): I would really appreciate if you put on your "to do" list for April to please send me my income tax refund! It would be quite helpful this month. Thank you.

03 April 2011

The Best Leadership Book

Someone I am mentoring asked me the other day, "What is the best leadership book?" My first inclination was to recite an annotated bibliography of my "top ten." Of course I would do that after I said that the Bible is the best leadership book ever.
       But I refrained from both of these things. I had to consider his question for only a second or two and said, "Henri Nouwen's In the Name of Jesus is the best leadership book I have read. If you have not read it you should. I re-read it every year and it hits me between the eyes every time about how much I need to grow (up) as a leader.
       By the way, I realize Nouwen's book is not a full treatise on the practice of leadership. In many ways it is an UN-leadership book, which 

02 April 2011

Selecting Which Genocides are Most Important

This is a quote from the speech that President Obama gave to the American People last week:
       "Rather than stand down, [Qaddafi's] forces continued their advance, bearing down on the city of Benghazi, home to nearly 700,000 men, women and children who sought their freedom from fear.
       "At this point, the United States and the world faced a choice.  Qaddafi declared he would show 'no mercy' to his own people.  He compared them to rats, and threatened to go door to door to inflict punishment.  In the past, we have seen him hang civilians in the streets, and kill over a thousand people in a single day.  Now we saw regime forces on the outskirts of the city.  We knew that if we wanted -- if we waited one more day, Benghazi, a city nearly the size of Charlotte, could suffer a massacre that would have reverberated across the region and stained the conscience of the world.
It was not in our national interest to let that happen.  I refused to let that happen."
       I am left with a DAUNTING question. When IS it in our national interest to allow a leader to massacre his own people? And how do we define "national interest" so that we can know when to step in?
       Presumably President Franklin Roosevelt determined it was not in our national interest as Jozef Stalin massacred between 20 and 30 million of his people in Russia;
       Presumably President Harry Truman and then Dwight Eisenhower determined it was not in our national interest as Mao-tse-Dong slaughtered more than 50 million Chinese;
       And what about Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge of Cambodia?
       And why haven't we Americans intervened in Zimbabwe, or the Congo in the past years as their governments have tortured and murdered people?
       Surely we would not argue that a Libyan's life is more valuable than a Zimbabweans! Or would we?
I think Jon Stewart got it right in this commentary:

01 April 2011

Well, This Has Been a Different Week!

The pace of my life changed quite a bit this week:
* I have spent 3-4 hours per day writing ... a Passover Hagaddah. So, working with my hands in one way (typing);
* I have spent 2-4 hours a few days doing manual labor - helping my friend Jim who is a contractor. I'm the "go-fer," i.e. the UNskilled labor/help;
View from the bedroom of RV.
* Oh yes, Susy is in California this week visiting Carly ... and Steven and I are staying in an RV at a park in Golden. We woke up to snow flurries the other morning! Not sure how well we are eating either? :o) Guys...
* In the midst of this I continue to work through the Ignatian exercise workbook which is being developed by my friend Brian Rice at LCI. It great stuff, just a little disjointed in the midst of my fairly eclectic life at the moment!
       And now I am looking forward to April and all that is ahead!