30 December 2013

Merton on Hope

"We are not perfectly free until we live in pure hope. For when our hope is pure, it no longer trusts exclusively in human and visible means, nor rests in any visible end. He who hopes in God trusts God, Whom he never sees, to bring him to the possession of things that area beyond imagination."
~ Thomas Merton, No Man is an Island

20 December 2013

Why Duck Dynasty Does Not Matter

Confession: I know just about ZERO about Duck Dynasty in general, and absolutely nothing about the current alleged controversy. The only thing I know is that some guys have long beards which reminds me of ZZ Top. That's it.
       The fact of the matter is that I think my life is better for NOT knowing Duck Dynasty. Why? Well because it's called "Duck Dynasty." Have you been around ducks lately? They are not the sharpest knives in the drawer! Why would we want a dynasty of DUCKS??
Dolphins, yes. Ducks, no.
       Here's the second reason that I don't give a rip about Duck Dynasty and what controversy is stirred. It's ADVENT season! Why in the world is anyone considering anything else besides this wild, beauty, crazy event called "the birth of Messiah." Now THAT is full of mystery, intrigue, even controversy, and WILD HOPE for God's creation.
       My friend Dave Meserve - resident sage - has written a number of wonderful Advent guides. In one he writes this:
"In the Nativity Story, we have four poetic outbursts as evidence that a character is standing in a very thin place. They've had an encounter! When someone bursts into laughter, you wonder what was so funny, and when an Advent character bursts into song, you want to know what caused it. That cause is what we seek to understand and cultivate this season."
       I would like to be caught up in the Nativity Story and encounter a thin place, where Jesus is born in us.

19 December 2013

Oh yes YOUR STORY MATTERS!

Everyone has a story (your personal narrative of life) - unique, precious, possibly full of hurt and hope. Each story of a life matters - a lot - even if you might feel like it doesn't.
       In classic Apple fashion, this commercial reminds us that our stories matter - and they are worth capturing with such cool devices such as an iPhone!

12 December 2013

The Best Tribute for Mandela

The cry of the heart in grief (and respect) is one of the most sacred things of life. This tribute was organized by Woolworth store in South Africa in partnership with the Soweto Gospel choir.



Asimbonanga [we have not seen him]
Asimbonang' uMandela thina [we have not seen Mandela]
Laph'ekhona [in the place where he is]
Laph'ehleli khona [in the place where he is kept]

Asimbonanga
Asimbonang 'umfowethu thina [we have not seen our brother]
Laph'ekhona [in the place where he is]
Laph'wafela khona [in the place where he died]
Sithi: Hey, wena [We say: hey, you]
Hey, wena nawe [Hey, you and you]
Siyofika nini la' siyakhona [when will we arrive at our destination]

The song was written during Mandela's incarceration as a call for his freedom.

11 December 2013

A Tragic Persecution

Ronnie Smith, from Austin Stone Church in Texas, was gunned down in Benghazi, Libya a week ago while on a run. Ronnie is a martyr for the Kingdom of God.
       Many of us desire to be generous toward Muslims, and toward the cultures where Islam has grown and developed over many generations. Recently I returned from North Africa, and I want to be respectful and honoring of the peoples and cultures of that land.
       Many of us also want to stand up for justice, and to speak against oppression. We believe the Palestinians should be given equal opportunity to live peacefully as Israelis do. We advocate for the homeless and under-privileged.
       We must also speak to the tragedy of a Christian who was gunned down by militants in Libya. Ronnie Smith went to Libya with his wife and son to teach at an international school. We was seeking the shalom of that war-torn land.
       Any and every religious, political, or social system which forbids certain beliefs must be called out. The voice of Jesus incarnate here and now is for justice and protection for all. It is never acceptable for minorities in a country to be persecuted and killed. If a country is Islamic by orientation we must ask whether or not their ideology allows for minority expressions, and if there will be protection for these minorities.
       I want to ask my friends who are following Jesus to find our voice in advocating for justice for all peoples, as passionately for one as for the other.
       May God give enormous grace to Anita Smith and her young son in the days ahead.

The Pope As Time's Person of the Year

Most of the people who were considered for Time's Person of the Year are less than role models - Bashar Assad of Syria, Edward Snowden, Miley Cyrus.
       Time chose Pope Francis. In my view there was no other real choice. As a leader he stands apart from just about every other leader today, except perhaps Nelson Mandela.

09 December 2013

The Challenge Posed by Pope Francis

In his recent "Apostolic Exhortation" to the faithful, Pope Francis challenged the Church both theologically and with our practice of faith. Some of his opening comments:

"The joy of the gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. Those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness. With Christ joy is constantly born anew."

"The great danger in today’s world, pervaded as it is by consumerism, is the desolation and anguish born of a complacent yet covetous heart, the feverish pursuit of frivolous pleasures, and a blunted conscience."

"I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day."

"Let me say this once more: God never tires of forgiving us; we are the ones who tire of seeking his mercy."

"The Gospel, radiant with the glory of Christ’s cross, constantly invites us to rejoice."

"Goodness always tends to spread. Every authentic experience of truth and goodness seeks by its very nature to grow within us, and any person who has experienced a profound liberation becomes more sensitive to the needs of others."

"The Gospel offers us the chance to live life on a higher plane, but with no less intensity: “Life grows by being given away, and it weakens in isolation and comfort. Indeed, those who enjoy life most are those who leave security on the shore and become excited by the mission of communicating life to others."

06 December 2013

Nelson Mandela: Somewhere Between Hope and Peace

Nelson Madiba Mandela passed from this earth on Thursday, 5 December 2013. He was 95 years old.
       He died during the Advent season, celebrated by more than a billion Christians to remember the beginning of Jesus' incarnation on earth.
       Mandela died between the first and second Sundays of Advent, the first traditionally being known as the Sunday of HOPE and the second being known as the Sunday of PEACE.
       In Short, Nelson Mandela left us on the path in between Hope and Peace. Having experienced both of these himself in such poignant and powerful fashion, he led us to this very place with the urging to get to that next place of JOY.
       Mr. Mandela is now at that next stop called Joy, having lived with Hope and having both found peace and brought peace to his people and to our world.

04 December 2013

The Example of a Generous Spirit

Word got out this week that Pope Francis makes clandestine excursions from the Vatican into Rome in the evening to minister to the poor. Word on the street is that he does this incognito - not dressed in papal attire but rather as a "regular" priest.
       Many of us have marveled yet again at the Pope's audacity. His actions again are riveting us. Many of us find ourselves smiling and nodding in appreciation and admiration. Why?
       Because Pope Francis consistently demonstrates a genuine Generous Spirit!
       Or to put it in a corny way, he "walks the talk."
       He does so without fanfare...
       with focus on the other, not on himself...
       with passion and COMpassion...
       with authenticity...
       with the Spirit of Christ bursting forth from his life.
     And so when a young boy walked up on stage recently while the pope was speaking to a crowd, we all gasped in one way or another. We were tempted to instruct the boy that it was not appropriate for him to interrupt the pope.
      Instead, the man with that generous spirit simply placed his hand on the boy's head and subtly invited the boy to stand next to him.
       Yet another quiet, humble act of a man who is so full of Jesus that His Spirit spills out in generosity everywhere.
       I, for one, want to be more like this man.


02 December 2013

Coming This Friday Eve!

Our annual Holiday Pottery Show and Sale is this coming weekend at our house. Stop by if you are in or around Denver.

  • Friday, December 6 from 7:00 to 10:00pm - also featuring wines from South Africa!
  • Saturday, December 7 from 9:00 to 11:30am - Pots and Bagels brunch!

We are at 8795 W. Dartmouth Place, Lakewood 80227



19 November 2013

Chasing Peace

Salim Munayer's Story from Kensington on Vimeo.

This is certainly worth having a look at. The story of Salim Munayer and the Israeli - Palestinian Conflict.

18 October 2013

"Terrorism thrives only in places of chaos"

"Terrorism thrives only in places of chaos." ~ Rami Khouri, Director of Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy, American University of Beirut.


I went to a lecture at the University of Denver yesterday sponsored by the Joszef Korbel School of International Studies. The talk was given by Rami Khouri and was titled, "Has the Arab Spring Failed? The Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East."
       Khouri made an interesting comment about terrorism. He said it can only exist and thrive in the midst of chaos. He cited growing terrorist movements in Libya, Syria, and Afghanistan as current examples. All three countries border on lawlessness. I thought of other countries in the region where terrorism is at a minimum - Algeria and Qatar come to mind. Both of those countries are stable and relatively safe. Algeria is ruled by a strong military, Qatar is one of the most economically prosperous in the world.
       So how do you fight terrorism? You dispel chaos! What's the antidote to chaos? Shalom - wholeness, completeness. People who seek shalom squeeze out any place for a terrorist. It's just like light and darkness. Light always dispels darkness; darkness cannot overtake the light.
       This is one of my motivations for introducing Muslims to Jesus. The Muslim world is the seedbed for much terrorism in the world (although there are other non-Muslim contexts as well). If Jesus is "the Prince of Peace" and the "Light of the World," it makes sense that terrorism cannot co-exist with Jesus.


12 October 2013

My Favorite Week

Most years I make a mini-pilgrimage back to Central New York where I attended university a couple of decades ago. I try to go in the middle of October, because the changing colors are usually breath-taking and life-giving to me.
       I take off for New York on Friday and am there for a brief two days. Hopefully the changing leaves will be as spectacular as I remember them from past years.
       I think I like Autumn for a number of reasons - I like cooler weather for one thing. But more important, I appreciate the changing seasons. They provide a certain rhythm to life that I appreciate a lot.
       I also find it fascinating that just before the leaves "die" and fall off the trees they are most beautiful. And then those same trees are bare and must become dormant before new life can spring forth next year.


07 October 2013

WIsdom in the Midst of a Government Shutdown

There is so little that is worth talking about in regards to the shutdown of the U.S. government. At the moment, I simply feel embarrassed by the elected representatives of the citizens of the U.S. - both Democrats and Republicans.
       The chaplain of the U.S. Senator offered the only wisdom I have heard in the past week when he prayed this prayer:

02 October 2013

Last Words Matter ...

My wife reminded me this morning of Lewis Smedes' spiritual memoir, My God and I, which turned out to be the last words he wrote before his sudden and untimely death more than a decade ago.
       His words so captivated my heart and soul when I read them many years ago, and they did so again this morning. Lew was a spiritual giant.

"This is where I find myself now on the journey that God and I have been on, at the station called hope, the one that comes right after gratitude and somewhere not far from journey's end. It has been 'God and I' the whole way. Not so much because he has always been pleasant company. Not because I could always feel his presence when I got up in the morning or when I was afraid to sleep at night. It was because he did not trust me to travel alone. Personally I like the last miles of the journey better than the first. But, since I could not have the ending without first having the beginning, I thank God for getting me going and bringing me home. And sticking with me all the way."

01 October 2013

Keep an Enemy ... or Make Peace?

There is a certain equilibrium created when we know who our enemies are and we can defend ourselves against them.
       For much of his life, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel has known instinctively that Iran is Enemy #1 of his people. After all, Iran has had leaders who have said they wanted to wipe Israel off the face of the earth.
       So I understand why Mr. Netanyahu went to the United Nations and said that the new president of Iran is a "wolf in sheep's clothing," even as the previous Iranian president was a "wolf in wolf's clothing." The real crisis for Mr. Netanyahu will come when President Rouhani of Iran actually does want to make peace.
       It will be a crisis because Mr. Netanyahu and Israel know how to wage war, but has little experience in "waging peace." In fact, Israeli leaders who have sought peace have either been assassinated (Izchak Rabin) or somewhat marginalized (Shimon Peres).
       Nonetheless, I find it somewhat astounding that Mr. Netanyahu could be so clear and confident that Mr. Rouhani is a "wolf in sheep's clothing." Does he know Mr. Rouhani personally to make such an assertion? How was Mr. Netanyahu informed so that he could make this bold pronouncement? Does Mr. Netanyahu assume that Mr. Rouhani is deceptive because that is a trait of Iranians in general?
       My people (i.e. Jews) should be the very last people on earth to make generalizations about a culture, ethnic group, or an individual. We Jews have been called "wolves in sheeps' clothing" as well - by people who persecuted us in places such as Russia and Germany.
       We would do well to withhold judgement on people such as Mr. Rouhani and wait to see if his actions match his words. That might even lead to that ever elusive ... Shalom!

27 September 2013

Sometimes It's Just that GOOD

Baseball is a kid's sport wherein grown men chase a small white ball and, oddly, are paid absurd amounts of money to do so. But in the end, it's only a game.
       Recently Major League Baseball has been filled with drug scandals as well. It has been a sad chapter.
       But last night was a reminder that America's pastime has a dignity and pride that transcends the payrolls and scandals.
       The reason that Mariano Rivera's curtain call at Yankee Stadium last night was so GOOD is because of TEAM and HUMILITY. When long-time teammates Derek Jeter and Andy Pettite came to the mound to take Mo out in the 9th inning all at once we remembered that these guys have been through thick and thin together for almost two decades! This was not only the end of a great career; this was long-time friends and teammates having a huge MOMENT together to laugh and cry, to be in the emotions of that great scene.
       This was also about Mariano's humility. He has worked hard to use his gifts and talents for many years. But in the end he has sought to be generous and focused on others, namely his teammates and the fans. While this ending HAS TO BE about Mariano, he wants to honor the people around him. THAT is CLASS.
       Today I am proud to be a New York Yankees fan. They are not even making the playoffs this year. They are not one of the best teams in baseball at the moment. But I will take a season like this over a World Series any day!
       In the words of Manager Joe Girardi last night at the press conference, "Mo made my job fun, he made my job easy. But more important than that, he made all our lives better. And we will miss him." Amen.

26 September 2013

Billy Graham's Request to Iran

I so appreciate and respect Billy Graham's request to the Iranian government. If the Iranian government is truly changing (which I hope it is), this would be an incredible gesture of sincerity.


23 September 2013

In a World Gone Awry ... We Must Love

The past couple of months has seen some of the worst violence against Christians in Muslim countries in many centuries. While some of us express outrage at these incidents, the Church in the West is largely indifferent to it.
       Yesterday a suicide bomber killed 81 people at a church in Peshawar, Pakistan.
       Dozens of churches have been destroyed in Egypt over the past two months. There has been more destruction directed at Christians in Egypt in the past month than in generations before.
       I have learned a valuable lesson from my own personal history as a Jew. Much of my father's family was murdered in the Holocaust when they were deported from eastern Hungary to Auschwitz. We Jews have told the world that we (all) must never forget what happened to us, and we must never allow it to happen again.
       This is not only the case for Jews. It is the case for every people group and culture and religious community that is threatened by another.
       What does this mean? It means we must be equally outraged by these things:
* Christians being persecuted by Muslims in Pakistan and Egypt;
* Bosnian Muslims being persecuted by Orthodox Serbs in the former Yugoslavia;
* Shi'ite Muslims persecuting Sunni Muslims in a country, and vice versa in another country;
* Jews persecuting Palestinians in Israel and the Palestinian territories;
* Palestinians persecuting Jews in that same land.
        The cry and call for justice to whoever is oppressed is a core part of the gospel of Jesus Christ. We must never be selective in who advocate for, and whose lives are most important. God sees PEOPLE - Christians, Jews, Muslims, and others. And for those who are the oppressed He pleads their cause. So should we.


17 September 2013

Why's Mariano's Tribute Matters So Much

The Boston Red Sox, those dastardly foes of we New York Yankee fans, gave Mariano Rivera a farewell tribute that was greater than watching Thurman Munson hit a grand slam!
       Mo is on his "farewell tour" around baseball stadiums as he nears retirement at the end of this month.
       There is no more hallowed ground for the Yankees (besides Yankee Stadium of course) than old Fenway Park in Boston.
       And so it seemed fitting that the Red Sox would pay the greatest, most dignified tribute to Mo on his final night in their park.
       This tribute means so, so much to baseball, which has been maligned this year due to the scandal over players' use of banned substances.
       The Red Sox tribute of Rivera meant so much to me as a Yankee fan for a number of reasons:
   1. In the end, these are grown men playing a boys sport of chasing a little white ball! In other words, IT'S ONLY A GAME!
   2. Mo always made the Red Sox better due to his competitive edge. And the Red Sox always called the best out of Mariano;
   3. Mo is just a wonderfully generous and gracious soul, and the Red Sox were able to return that grace to him in front of 35,000 of their fans;
   4. Rivera transcends the huge payroll, mega egos (i.e. Billy Martin) and scandals (i.e. A-Rod) that plague the New York Yankees. Sure, New York thrives on these things in a weird sort of way. But Mariano Rivera challenges we New Yorkers to get out of the scandals and to play at a higher level. And that's a very good thing.
       So I tip my hat to Mariano Rivera as well. Arguably the greatest closer that Major League Baseball has ever seen, but somehow that does not matter nearly as much as the quality of man who throws those pitches.


12 September 2013

The Day AFTER Sept. 11th

The sun rose early this morning, the day after Sept. 11th. God is still God.
       Tomorrow is the most holy day of the year for Jews - Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement). Two days after Sept. 11th.
       I find it poignant that Yom Kippur falls just two days after September 11th this year. Atonement for sins in the shadow of the Day of Great Sin when planes flew into towers killing thousands.
       The Day of Atonement is inaugurated in the book of Leviticus, chapter 16, as part of the law (code) for Israel. Read the details of the Day of Atonement and you will realize that it is a tremendously bloody ordeal.
       Aaron was to take a young bull and slaughter it as a sin offering for himself and his household.
        Then he was to bing two goats and slaughter one and the other one became the scapegoat.
       The Day of Atonement was a BLOODY MESS for the people of God, wherein the blood of these animals symbolized a needed sacrifice to "pay" for the sins of a people.
       This year's Yom Kippur reminds me of the other bloody ordeal, 12 years ago on September 11th. It was not the blood of animals, but rather the blood of thousands of victims of senseless terrorism. Those people's blood did not atone for anyone's sin - it reminded us that atonement for human sin is so desperately needed in our world.
       And that reminds me of yet another bloodshed - the ultimate bloodshed on a lonely hill in Palestine. One person's blood shed for the future bloodsheds perpetrated by the very people loved so dearly. This is the story of Jesus, the Messiah.

10 September 2013

"I'm Just a Mess..." and Other Excuses

It is cool and trendy to be a mess these days - even in Christian circles where I spend a lot of my time.
       Somehow "I'm a mess" is a badge of honor, something to be admired and patted on the back for in some bizarre way.
       I find this ... disconcerting, to say the least, and very often harmful.
       The "I'm a mess" philosophy is usually a reaction to conservative religious legalism which says, "you can NEVER be a mess" and "we all have to have our act together in every way." And so we react to that and have a false understanding of God's transformative power in our lives.
       Certainly many people's lives are genuinely a mess - self-imposed sin, victimization, bad circumstances, tragedies happen in life. And God meets us and relates to us in the midst of the mess. This is the story of the incarnation, that Jesus took on flesh and became human in the midst of the muck and mire of humanity.
       But there is no glory and honor in simply living in the muck and mire. It is not God's grace that calls us to be stuck in sinful patterns or as victims of an alcoholic parent or an abusive spouse.
       God is all about redemption and making something beautiful out of chaos. He did it with creation, He does it today as He transforms people's lives. Certainly there are places of our lives which may remain messy and difficult, but even in the midst of that God wants to transform our minds and hearts to live well through it.
        And this is why the Apostle Paul could write to the Romans 12, "Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will."
       

07 September 2013

Just Imagine the Lone Security Guard

Right now on the outskirts of Damascus a lone security guard is beginning his shift outside a military base or ammunition site.
       Call him Achmed. He left home about 45 minutes ago to start his shift. He has worked there for more than 10 years. For a country as poor as Syria, Achmed has been paid adequately thanks to the military regime of President Assad.
       Achmed is very anxious nowadays - each evening for the past 3 weeks he has said good-bye to his wife and 5 children as he heads to work, not knowing if an air strike on the military base might end his life.
       How many "Achmeds" are living in Syria, trying to eke out an existence under a repressive regime, in the midst of a two-year sectarian civil war, and now under the probable bombing by a superpower?
       How many women and children have been or will be "collateral damage" from the war or intervention from the west?
       How many refugees will flood across borders in an attempt to save their lives?
       Military planners will tell you that war should not be personal. It does no good for the cause that we know the name of the lone security guard, or that we know personal information such as whether he is a dad and how many kids are at home. For the purposes of war, it does no good to imagine that this lone security guard is just doing his job at the ammo site and will not know what hit him when the explosion takes his life.
       Politicians want to sensitize people to the deaths of women and children due to chemical weapons. It is nothing less than genocide what the Syrian regime has done to its people. Let's be honest about that.
       But if we are to be sensitized to that reality, we must grieve deeply at the human catastrophe of Syria being bombed and the men, women, children, families who will be killed by such actions. Let us be fully engaged in both realities and make decisions from there.

06 September 2013

To My U.S. Senators and Representative...

Dear Senator Udall, Senator Bennet, and Rep. Perlmutter,

I am writing to you as one of your constituents to ask that you not authorize military intervention in Syria.
       My rationale for this is the following:
   1. It appears there is little, if any, military goal of this action;
   2. It is likely the President Assad is more likely rather than less likely to use chemical weapons on his people if the U.S. intervenes;
   3. The nature of sectarian violence in the Middle East (wherein Sunnis and Shi'ites war against one another) is more tribal in orientation and not "western" at all. What this means is that the United States has a very limited understanding of the cultural dynamics at work in Syria. We would do best to stay out of that which we do not understand;
   4. Who or what comes after Mr. Assad? If you think he is a despot and a criminal (which he is), just wait until jihadists control the country. While Americans may find Assad despicable (as we did Saddam Hussein and Khaddafi in Libya), regime change in the Middle East usually results in more confusion and suffering rather than less;
   5. There is no international coalition to intervene in Syria. America is going it alone and we should not. It is not the place of the U.S. to police the world. I realize you may disagree with this assessment, but without the explicit support of allies such as the UK, France, Germany and Japan it does not seem appropriate for the U.S. to move forward.
       Lastly, I do not want to minimize the genocide by the Syrian government in gassing more than 1,000 of its own people. The international community must act to limit Assad and for him to leave power. I just do not believe that military action moves the world closer to that goal.


05 September 2013

Days of Awe

Today begins the 10 "Days of Awe" from Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) to Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement). These are the most holy days of the year for the Jewish people.
       In the modern Jewish worldview these days have far less import than they did two or three generations ago when more religious Jews emigrated to America.
       In those earlier days the High Holidays represented a mixture of deep introspection about our personal and corporate sin along with being in awe of God's mercy to His people. There is something healthy about this perspective that I miss these days.
       Growing up in a Jewish family, these Days of Awe translated into an understanding that God has "books" that He opens at Rosh Hashanah and writes everyone's name in. During these 10 days He decides who will live this year and who will die, or who will have a "good" life and who will have a "bad" life this coming year.
       This process was a mysterious and confusing thing for me. But what was even more strange was that my actions could somehow change God's mind. I needed to repent (I did not know what that meant), I needed to pray, and I needed especially to do good deeds during the Days of Awe. I never knew what kinds of good deeds or how many of them, but I knew they needed to be really GOOD and A LOT of them. Then on Yom Kippur the book was closed for the year. In essence, my fate was sealed.
       To this day I do not know what to do with the Days of Awe. As someone who earnest seeks to follow Jesus (who, after all, was a Jewish rabbi no less!), he seems to challenge the assumptions about the Book of Life and the Book of Death. Perhaps it is because HE IS THE BOOK OF LIFE HIMSELF!
       So, to my Jewish brothers and sisters on this Rosh Hashnah, Shanah Tovah. May it be a "good year," and may you find it most fully in Y'shua the Messiah.

02 September 2013

The Monday Shout-Out: Leadership ConneXtions

My good friend Brian Rice and i co-founded Leadership ConneXtions a decade ago and he has developed it in amazing ways.
They have a brand new website which has a wealth of information and resources.

30 August 2013

The Honor and Dignity of Women ...


Our culture treats women every which way except in the way it should: with honor and dignity.
       Which image is more demeaning of women: the annual cover of Sports Illustrated's swimsuit issue or a Muslim woman dressed in a burka?
       Somehow western culture believes that a minimally dressed Miley Cyrus at the MTV awards is acceptable while Afghan women dressed in full black burkas in 100 degree weather is horrific.
       The common thread in both these instances is a lack of honor and dignity of women in general. It does not matter if it is a Judeo-Christian worldview or a Muslim worldview.
       Just as I was writing this blog my friend and colleague Minde referenced a comment by Ryan Connell, "Imagine how different the world would be if Jesus took the form of a woman."
       Whew! Bombshell of a thought! Perhaps I would ask the question like this:
"How would Jesus dress?" or
"How would Jesus dance at the MTV awards?"
       Even more personal to me is this question: 
How would Jesus ask me relate to women with honor and dignity? This is where the rubber meets the road for me. Here's a few thoughts:
     * Because men and women are both specifically made in God's image (Gen. 1:27), men and women together incarnate God (the gospel) to the world around us;
     * I seek to work alongside women as equals in work and ministry. I have been so blessed by women I have led with - Geer and Jeannette in Amsterdam, Lizzy with Step Up, Minde and Katy now. There are others.
Having said this, I realize that these relationships have rarely been "equal," because of systemic biases and prejudices that are deeply engrained in me and in my culture. I grieve over this;
     * There is a certain unique beauty to women that I seek to honor. That beauty is distinctly female and we men so easily distort and abuse it. But I do not want to minimize this beauty just because we twist it. My wife displays this beauty - both external and internal - in ways that are mystifying to me. And I am like a moth to a lighted bulb with her. And that is how God created us, male and female.
       What our culture needs is examples and models (as few as they may be) of men and women relating to each other with honor and dignity. We combat the darkness of an MTV awards dance or a pastor abusing women by shining light into that darkness. Positive examples will overshadow the darkness of negative examples every time.
       That reminds of me Jesus relating to the woman caught in adultery in John 8. All the  (religious) men scamper away when Jesus challenges them, "whoever is without sin, go ahead and cast the first stone." Thump, thump, thump go the stones as the men drop them and back away.
       And then Jesus relates to the woman with dignity and honor. "I do not condemn you either; go and sin no more."
       Perhaps these words apply to we men who have also behaved so poorly toward women. Jesus says, "I do not condemn you either; go and sin no more."

P.S.: My friend Michael Hidalgo has written very well about the MTV awards of the other night. Read his comments here

28 August 2013

Bombing Genocide

It is fairly certain that the Syrian government used chemical weapons against its own people this week. I have to admit, embarrasingly, that I want to bomb the you-know-out of the bad guys.

       Give the bad guys a name: Assad - president of Syria. Send in the bombs. Go ahead. Do it.
       Then what? To what political end would the U.S. do this? Think for a moment of the bad scenarios:
* The U.S. bombs and Assad retaliates with even more chemical warfare;
* The U.S. bombs and the Iranians get involved and bomb Israel;
* The U.S. bombs, Assad goes into exile in Iran, and then what? Who steps into the power vacuum???
* The U.S. bombs and the are escalates on all sides and more men, women, and children die.
       Carl Medearis wrote a provocative blog today called, "Looking for Someone to Bomb." He asks the question, "Who would Jesus bomb?" Interesting question really. Certainly Jesus would want us to stand up to injustice, and even worse, genocide.
       But would Jesus bomb the people who perpetrate genocide? Like Carl, I would say that it's very unlikely that he would. Why? Because all the more people would be killed, and Jesus is all about LIFE, not death.
       My position has weaknesses and flaws, I realize. One is that genocide of any and every kind cannot and must not be tolerated by the international community. That not only goes for Syria and chemical weapons, but all instances of genocide. So what do you do?
       We must advocate for the victims of such abuse. We must mobilize to help people fleeing into Lebanon and Jordan. While Jesus would have us "love our enemies," he would also ask us to defend the life of the widow, the oppressed, the homeless. And that would include refugees from this present tragedy.
       As difficult and challenging as it is for the United States, I would hope and pray that the U.S. not intervene as the world's policeman. It has not produced the intended results in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other places. It won't work in Syria either.

"Who's Preaching This Week?"

Here are three "scenes" from the life of real churches:
       Scene 1: Two gals walk into a church service 5 minutes early and sit down waiting for the service to start.
One says to the other, "I hope the senior pastor is preaching. He's the best."
The other girl says to her friend, "If he's not preaching let's leave and go out to breakfast."
       Scene 2: A very large church is opening a second location to accommodate growth. They choose a venue and set a date months in the future to begin. They have an "open house" at the new venue to get to know people there. The senior pastor reports back to his congregation, "We met so many new people! The question that every person had was, 'Will YOU be preaching at this location?'"
       Scene 3: A very successful pastor is removed from his position and starts a new church in the same city. The first church loses more than 50% of its attenders in the first month after the pastor is gone.
       If you are a regular church attender the odds are that you get yourself out of bed on Sunday morning and go to a worship service in large part to hear a guy (it's usually men) preach a good sermon. And if the guy is not there you are not there either.


       Late in his life, Vincent van Gogh was living in the south of France. He depicted a church in Auvers (see photo). It looks weary, sagging, and unattractive. It was his take on the state of the Church in Europe in his lifetime, and how that Church had hurt him over time.
       I wonder how van Gogh would capture the 21st Century Church in the West?

27 August 2013

Like a Turtle Crossing the Road












I took this photo earlier this summer in St. Paul, Minnesota. I was stopped in my car's tracks by a huge turtle crossing the road.
       It took this guy a long time to cross the road. He did not seem in much of a hurry either.
       I often find myself frustrated by the seemingly slow pace of change in many ways.
       * Personally, I change much slower than I would like. At 50 years of age I still have habits I wish I would have shed years ago;
       * Prejudices change slowly. Fifty years ago Martin Luther King Jr. gave his famous, "I have a dream speech." Much HAS changed in that ensuing generation, but new prejudices have sprung up in western culture (toward Muslims in America for example);
       * Church implosions have not changed, and may be getting worse actually. I witnessed firsthand the implosion of a church I love in 1995. I have witnessed another in Denver over the past months. Not much difference really.
       What gives me hope is that I have a picture of Jesus becoming like that big old turtle crossing the road and leading the way across the road! As we invite him in, he becomes the "lead turtle," which I realize is a bizarre image of the Lord of All Creation! He coaxes and models and cajoles us at times to keep moving, to actually cross the road (i.e. be transformed).
       

26 August 2013

The Monday Shout-Out: Not Forgotten International


This could be seen as a political endorsement, but I do not mean it that way. Check out Not Forgotten International to learn more about the Sahawari of Western Sahara. The folks with Not Forgotten are doing amazing work to bless a people who have been displaced.
      I have been fortunate enough to visit this work and to get to know the Sahawari. I am reminded of Jesus' words, "the first shall be last and the last first" in His Kingdom.

21 August 2013

Today is a Sad Day for the Church in Denver

I read this quote on someone's Facebook page today and I found it so apt for the Church in Denver:
"Whoever can weep over himself for one hour is greater than the one who is able to teach the whole world; whoever recognizes the depth of his own frailty is greater than the one who sees visions of angels." - Isaac of Nineveh
       My prayer is that Jesus' words would ring in our ears, "You will know the truth, and the truth shall set you free."
       Lord, have mercy on our souls.

20 August 2013

VIPs Do Not Think They Are

A few weeks ago I went to the New York Jets football training camp in Cortland, New York. The camp is held at the college I attended years ago, and because I am on the board of directors of the Alumni Association I got a VIP pass.
       The fact of the matter is that the VIP tent had few perks - free bottled water, coffee and juice, and some breakfast food that was something akin to an Egg McMuffin. That was it, besides the fact that I could watch the practice in the shade of the tent rather than the heat of the sun.
       What stuck out to me was that I walked around with a VIP badge on for a couple of hours, mingling with the "ordinary people." Several of them looked at me and wondered if I was some famous person, or the brother of a player, or some other special person (none of which is true).
       What I have noticed about some VIPs is that they do not want the label "VIP." They don't need it either. The truly healthy VIPs are servants first, and do not call attention to themselves. They are often unsung heroes who live their lives out of the spotlight as much as possible.
       They are diligent and work hard for the good of a cause or a team. They share the credit for successes and take the blame for failure. And they are consistent about both.
       They are often wildly gifted and talented, but they downplay it and use their gifting to bless and honor others. They are learners from every context that presents itself.
       They make others feel like VIPs, invite them into the tent for a cold bottle of water.
       At their core, true VIPs love it when people don't even know they were there while the mission is accomplished, the goal is reached, people are blessed.


19 August 2013

The Monday Shout-Out: Immanuel Church

Every Monday for a while I will give a "Shout Out" to a cause, ministry, church, or business that I appreciate and endorse. And that I believe could use your blessing or business or prayer.
       Today's shout out goes to Immanuel Church in Spokane, Washington pastored by my friend and former boss/colleague Rob Fairbanks.
       Immanuel is a brand new church plant in Spokane. Rob and his wife Robi pastored New Community in Spokane for many years before Rob joined Christian Associates and served as CA's president for a number of years.

16 August 2013

Standing Up Against Religious Oppression

When Pastor Terry Jones of Gainesville, Florida declared that his ministry planned to burn 3,000 Qu'rans in 2010 people rightfully spoke up in outrage. Pastor Jones neither reflected the gospel of Jesus nor did he do anything to build bridges between Christians and Muslims. On the contrary, he undermined the very Messiah he sought to present to people.

This week many Bible Society bookstores in Egypt were burned to the ground by pro-Muslim Brotherhood protesters. Christians were killed in the cross-fire of sectarian violence.
       We must be equally outraged by the repression of Christians by Muslims, just as we must stand against bigotry by Christians toward Muslims.
       Unfortunately, the western media does a poor job of understanding conflicts such as in Egypt. Frequently we see a very limited perspective on such complex situations. We would do well to become better informed. Click here for such a better perspective.


14 August 2013

Space Between What Is and What Should Be

The sub-title of this blog is, "The space between what is and what should be." Here is an example:
Arlington National Cemetery.
       We visited Arlington this week while attending the retirement ceremony and celebration of our friend Jim (well done, Jim - here's to the next 24 years!).
       There are graves of soldiers for miles and miles, as far as the eye can see at points. Arlington is a dignified, honorable place, "hallowed ground" Lincoln would have called it.
       We have to remember that it should not have to be this way - warfare and resulting death of brave men and women. The military uses the phrase, "they gave the ultimate sacrifice." It is an appropriate phrase too. I use it.
       But I wish I did not have to.
       There are 27 funerals at Arlington Cemetery every day. The cemetery was founded at the height of the Civil War when President Lincoln confiscated Robert E. Lee's home in Arlington, Virginia and ordered the Union to create a cemetery for the dead from that bloodiest of wars.
       I both marvel at the honor and dignity of Arlington National Cemetery and I am horrified by it in many ways. It is so easy to de-personalize the names on the tombstones; there are so many and it can be so overwhelming.
       So, I snapped the picture in this post so that something could be even remotely personal: Matthew David Suzuki of the United States Army served in Afghanistan and Iraq. He died in December 2012. May he rest in peace.



12 August 2013

The Monday Shout-Out: Playfull!

Every Monday for a while I will give a "Shout Out" to a cause, ministry, church, or business that I appreciate and endorse. And that I believe could use your blessing or business or prayer.
      I am so excited that my good friend Troy Cady has launched, Playfull! This is such a needed and "outside the box idea - and Troy is just the person to pursue this.
      Here's an overview from the website: PlayFull believes that play nurtures healthy people and creates thriving organizations. So, we are dedicated to helping people and organizations think, act and be more playful.
       We spear-head PlayGroups. These are gatherings of 6 to 26 people for a specified period of time dedicated to exploring a particular topic using playful approaches.
       We facilitate PlayDates. These are one-time events designed to help groups both large and small learn about a particular issue from a playful perspective.
       Check out the link on the page "What We're About" that brings you to the Mission Statement of Playfull - you will love it!

10 August 2013

The "Unknowns of Life"

More than a decade ago I learned this valuable insight: "You grow the most in the unknowns of life."
       My experience of God is mostly that he seems to mumble a lot to me. I do not often hear Him very clearly. In this instance I heard Him crystal clear:
YOU GROW THE MOST IN THE UNKNOWNS OF LIFE.
       The scene in my life back in 2001 was that I was a first-time senior pastor of a larger church, and the start to my tenure was not good at all. Our congregation experienced multiple, sudden deaths, and I was looked to for leadership and comfort. It was incredibly unknown territory to me.
       These days I am walking alongside a congregation that is experiencing the unknowns of life as a community. There are painfully few answers to the many questions they are asking. Some of them are wounded due to abusive leadership over a number of years. Some of the wounds are raw and open, far from becoming scars.
       And then I am reminded of the lesson I learned a decade ago - the best opportunities to grow and mature are when we are in uncharted territory. The Unknown is the place where I learned to trust God the most, it is the place where I questioned my priorities and what is truly important in my life, and it is when the past and the future mattered very little and I was challenged to live fully in the present.
       I am comforted by King David in Psalm 27 as he wrestled with his own unknowns:

Hear my voice when I call, Lord;
    be merciful to me and answer me.
My heart says of you, “Seek his face!
    Your face, Lord, I will seek.
Do not hide your face from me,
    do not turn your servant away in anger;
    you have been my helper.
Do not reject me or forsake me,
    God my Savior.

~ Psalm 27:7-9