31 March 2013

The Pope and Washing a Muslim Woman's Feet

My first impressions of Pope Francis I are quite positive, especially his attitude of humility and moving the spotlight off himself and onto Christ.
       Last week on Maundy Thursday the pope washed the feet of 12 people in a prison. One of those people was a Muslim woman.
       Catholic traditionalists argue that this annual rite should be reserved to men only, because Jesus' 12 disciple were all male. I am less interested in the gender debate and more intrigued by the Pope washing the feet of a Muslim.
       There are two possible concerns that Christians could have with the Pope's actions. First, we may wonder if he is endorsing Islam by his act of contrition. Second, he potentially violated Islamic custom by touching the woman.
       I find the Pope's action both courageous and incredibly humble. I cannot infer that he is "endorsing" Islam or any of its tenets simply by the act of washing a woman's feet. He was showing compassion to a human being who happens to be a Muslim. He was not saying anything (necessarily) about Islam.
       Certainly Pope Francis might have broken Islamic tradition by touching the woman. It seems to me that he has a good example - Jesus himself, who healed on the sabbath and touched a number of otherwise "unclean" people.
       I wonder what the world would be like if more Christians took Pope Francis' example and humbled ourselves to serve the world - even in some radical ways. We might just taste a bit of Shalom.

29 March 2013

Bailey's Pups - 1 Year Ago Today!

Our Lab Bailey gave birth to 9 yellow puppies a year ago today. Here's a fun video that Susy put together right after they went to their new homes after 8 weeks. We have great memories of raising these puppies.

Bailey and Her Pupppies from Susy Newman on Vimeo.

25 March 2013

Jesus' Kind of Extremism

Rembrandt's, "Christ Drives Money Changers"
Holy Week for Jesus started with a statement of extremism - his unique kind of extremism. Jesus enters Jerusalem, goes to the temple, and trashes the money changers who are positioned in the temple courts.
       Jesus' extremism strikes at the heart of idolatry, in this case the idol of money and material things.
       Much of the Church in the West skims over this first act of defiance by Jesus as he begins the most difficult, arduous week of his life.
       The Western Church (i.e. many Christians) picks and chooses which "moral high ground" we will take - sexuality and the right to bear arms are two of them (an odd pair if you ask me). Other idolatry, such as greed and materialism, is much more taboo for many of us.
       Jesus seems quite comfortable addressing these taboo issues - perhaps that is why the gospel writers recount Holy Week beginning with him overturning the tables of the money changers.

24 March 2013

Bridging the Gun Control Gap?

I am writing this post primarily to my politically conservative friends who are strong proponents of the Second Amendment. I am fortunate to have well-informed and articulate friends with whom I spar on political and social issues! It is great conversation around the fire pit!
       This post is a "shout out" to them.

NRA Executive Wayne LaPierre
       There are many issues regarding the Second Amendment and gun control that I disagree with the NRA and Wayne LaPierre. My conservative buds are right that I am a bit of a "bleeding heart liberal" when it comes to these issues. I have never shot a gun in my 50 years on earth, a fact that utterly mystifies my gun-toting friends!
       I listened to Mr. LaPierre on Meet the Press today and agreed with two points that he made:
1) The news media should report on the enforcement (or lack thereof) of current federal laws. LaPierre pointed out that Chicago ranks dead last in enforcement and that city has one of the highest murder rates by handgun;
2) We as a country (and local municipalities) must address the serious issues around mental health which ties directly into shootings such as Columbine, Virginia Tech, and Newtown.
       Thank you, Mr. LaPierre, for articulating these critical issues.
       And now to my conservative friends, I urge you to stand up for other common sense issues that Mr. LaPierre disagrees with and which the NRA puts money to fund. It will take you conservatives to influence lawmakers and the NRA on a few issues which just makes sense:
1) Universal background checks - 85% of NRA members are supportive of this. I cannot understand why Mr. LaPierre cannot or will not endorse it;
2) Banning certain assault weapons - It will take people like you gun owners and enthusiasts to speak into what weapons can and should be banned;
3) High capacity magazines - I know this is a real "hot potato" issue and, once again, it will take more conservative, pro Second Amendment people to speak intelligently into this issue. I would defer to my conservative friends on this, if you are open to working on a solution.
       Every time I write about gun control and second amendment rights on my blog I have to moderate/filter the comments people want to put in the comments. I have been derided, received threats, and told I might burn in hell for my views. This saddens me deeply, and I am grateful for a bunch of more conservative friends here in Colorado who I respect and who treat me with respect as well.

17 March 2013

Are We Any Different?

Yesterday I umpired a baseball game in which one coach led his team to humiliate the other team. The first team won the game 14 to 0 and the winning coach told his players to steal bases and hit the ball as hard as they could, even when the score was 10 to zero.
       I was incredulous toward this coach, as parents of the losing team were as well. When my son Steven, who was umpiring behind home plate, called a fairly wild pitch from the losing team a strike the coach of the victorious team asked if that was a "mercy call." Odd expression really!
       I wonder if that winning coach has ever experienced genuine MERCY. I sort of doubt it.
      Sports such as baseball are a reflection of life in general. "Art imitates life," as they say. So do sports. The game of life is often about "to the victor the spoils."
       For example, the 100-person little church continues to lose people because a huge "gorilla" church just opened a video campus location just up the street.
       Leaders of a ministry I know have to keep "ahead of the competition" in creating new outreach tools and training seminars. The competition? Other Christian ministries.
       Thankfully there are churches and ministries that are thoroughly self-sacrificial, caring for the poor and powerless, and frequently asking, "how can we serve others" rather than looking out for themselves.
       Nonetheless, watching the winning coach at the third base line telling his runners to steal third base and score more runs was a vague reflection of some people of faith.
We would do well to employ the "mercy rule" a lot more liberally.

11 March 2013

More Light!

We changed the clocks in America last Saturday. It was the "Spring ahead" time of year, and that marks a number of things for me. It also refocuses and motivates me.
       The clock change reminds me that I need to stand in front of a mirror and practice my "strike out" call for umpiring baseball. We were supposed to work our first tournament last weekend, but we got snowed out! Next weekend it is suppose to be 60 degrees though. Play Ball!
       Spring reminds me that God creates and re-creates His creation. God is doing something great in our time. The writer of Lamentations tells us that God's compassions never fail, "they are new every morning." (Lamentations 3:22-23) In the Springtime it feels like those compassions area even newer!
       The additional light brings me to two staggering things that Jesus said about light.
First, Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)
Second, Jesus said, “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden." (Matthew 5:13)
       The change of time on the clock points me to the source of the light. When the sun sets later this evening, and I am able to sit in my backyard and watch it go down, I remember that Jesus is THE light, and in his odd economy he calls his followers to also be the light of world.
       I take this calling seriously. "Let your light shine" is not only an encouragement by Jesus but a command. May it be so this Springtime.
       Enjoy the longer days and the sunlight. Remember the source of the light too.

09 March 2013

Ah, My "Little" Girl in the Middle East!

Carly, our 21-year-old university senior, is spending the semester in Jordan, Israel, and Egypt on a 4-month study abroad.
       I just saw this picture of Car with a a woman somewhere on her travels. I love this photo - it captures so much of who Carly is and how God has wired her.
       Carly lives among cultures so well, and looks so ALIVE with this woman. (by the way, this lady must be quite small, because Carly is not exactly a giant!)
      Next month Susy and I will be in Israel for a couple of weeks. We are so looking forward to spending a bit of time with Carly and the 25 other students she is with this semester.

07 March 2013

Brokenness, Sadness, Transition, and Hope

I woke early this morning, having tossed and turned much of the night. Yesterday evening I finished writing a memo to church elders of a congregation I am beginning to help walk through major transition. It probably would have been wiser to write the memo in the morning rather than late at night! 
       This current church situation brings back painful memories of other church transitions I have observed, been a leader in, and been a consultant. I rarely feel as sad as I do in these contexts.
       This morning I was encouraged by a video slide show that my wife Susy put together a few years ago depicting the process of making pit-fired pottery. More than any other image or video, this captures SO MUCH of the realities the church I am consulting with is going through.

The Potter and "Beautiful Things" from Susy Newman on Vimeo.

06 March 2013

30 Years Ago Today ...

It was 30 years ago today - March 6, 1983 - that I said these words, "What the hell, I'm going to become a Christian."
       And so began the adventure of my lifetime, as unpolished a beginning as it was!
       I was a 20-year-old kid from Long Island, a third-year university student at Cortland State in upstate New York.
       At the time I knew very, very little about Jesus, about the gospel, about what it meant to be a Christian. It did not really register either that I was Jewish and choosing to following Jesus.
       I was just desperate - I needed a Savior and I knew that Jesus was him.
       Never in my wildest imagination could I have anticipated the wild journey God has had for me these three decades! The phrase that comes to mind is, ALL IS GRACE.
       Today I am grateful for so many things -
   for my brother, Randy, who patiently and steadfastly shared his new faith with me;
   for two college friends, Dave and Bill, who shared their faith with me after I first believed;
   for Tom Fraser, who first discipled me;
   for Glenn Gunderson and the people of Homer Baptist Church, who were the first community of faith I knew.
   And to many others who were part of my early days of faith back in 1983.
Here's to the coming days and years, and all that God has for me.

04 March 2013

Loving the "Former" Enough to Let it Grow

This is a follow up to my previous post regarding being a "former leader" of a church or organization. I love the people, churches, and organizations where I have served in leadership.
     I love Christian Associates. I love Crossroads Church in Amsterdam. I love Lookout Mountain Church. Love them all!
     It is also true that we tend to hurt the ones we love the most, and get hurt by the ones we love the most! Ouch.
     What this means is that it is exceedingly challenging and rare for a leader to leave his or her ministry context without some tearing, splitting, or fraying of the congregation. In fact, some leaders sub-consciously want the church or organization to stumble and struggle when they leave - as if to say to the world, "See, they really needed me!"
     But for those of us who are "former" to a church or organization, and if we believe in the mission and vision of that group, should we not pray for and desire its success and growth? I am astonished at many pastors who seem to care little that their former church is suffering through an ordeal. Most grievous, it is an affront to God, who has declared that His Church is the bride of Christ.
     I have a few present contexts where I serve now. Some day I will have the label of "former." The legacy that I want with all of these contexts is that they grow and thrive after I leave. When that happens I hope to have left a God-honoring legacy.

02 March 2013

Former Leaders and Their Former Flocks

Pope Benedict XVI flew off into the sunset of Rome a few days ago to begin his life as "former pope."
       For many leaders, being "former" is foreign territory and scares the hieby-giebies out of many of us (that's a technical term!).
       The news media has asked whether Benedict will stay out of church business, or if he might meddle. That is a very good question.
       I am the "former" of three situations - former Europe Director of Christian Associates, former senior pastor of Crossroads Amsterdam, and former executive pastor of Lookout Mountain Church in Denver.
       My self-assessment is that I did two out of the three of these well, the other one not so great. The poor transition was when I left the role of Europe Director in 2000. I handed off the role to a very gifted person who I had mentored for three years.
       But there was at least two problems: I did not move off the scene. I became pastor of the flagship church of the ministry, in the same city where he was. That made things messy. The other issue was that he was a bit of a junior leader and I did not prepare the way for him well enough.
       The other two (church) situations went well - in part because of me and in part despite me! I have learned a few key things from those transitions, and from leaders (especially pastors) who do not become "former" very well.
   * You have to leave and get out of the way entirely. When we left Amsterdam in 2005 I was determined to "disappear" from things at Crossroads for at least a year. I did that, by God's grace. We leaders can so easily meddle in the affairs of our former groups.
   * Never question or second guess the new leader, especially in public! (by the way, it's a very good idea for the new leader not to take swipes at the previous leader as well)
   * Don't fund-raise in your previous ministry context, at least for quite a while. This is difficult for people like me, who raises his financial support. When I was leaving Crossroads the elders asked that I not speak with people about supporting our ministry. Quite honestly, I was ticked off (and those elders were and are some of my closest friends). But their judgement was right. It is simply too difficult for people for whom I have been their pastor to sift through the complexity of the relationship with me.
       It has been challenging for me to live with the title "former." It's humbling. I remember when I returned for a visit to Amsterdam 2 or 3 years after I had left. Someone who was in the church when I pastored saw me on a Sunday morning before the worship service. She was surprised to see me. The first thing she said to me was, "Hi Brian. Crossroads is doing so GREAT without you!"
     I just had to laugh at the comment! It made me feel so ... human.