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:
       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

08 August 2013

Some Words from Pope Francis

I am taken by Pope Francis! There, I said it. I am an Evangelical and love the vision, passion, and purpose the new Pope has given to the Catholic Church.
       This is an excerpt from a speak he gave to Catholic bishops in Brazil two weeks ago. In a word, it is CAPTIVATING.
       “We are impatient, anxious to see the whole picture, but God lets us see things slowly, quietly.
       "Today, we need a Church capable of walking at people’s side, of doing more than simply listening to them; a Church which accompanies them on their journey; a Church able to make sense of the “night” contained in the flight of so many of our brothers and sisters from Jerusalem; a Church which realizes that the reasons why people leave also contain reasons why they can eventually return. But we need to know how to interpret, with courage, the larger picture.
       "Nothing is more lofty than the abasement of the Cross, since there we truly approach the height of love!
       "Do we know anything more powerful than the strength hidden within the weakness of love, goodness, truth and people today are attracted by things that are faster and faster: rapid Internet connections, speedy cars and planes, instant relationships.
       "But at the same time we see a desperate need for calmness, I would even say slowness. Is the Church still able to move slowly: to take the time to listen, to have the patience to mend and reassemble?
       "Or is the Church herself caught up in the frantic pursuit of efficiency?
       "Without mercy we have little chance nowadays of becoming part of a world of 'wounded' persons in need of understanding, forgiveness, love.”

07 August 2013

Reflections on a 'Gathering' - Gettysburg

Gettysburg is one of the most profound, sacred places on earth. Abraham Lincoln called it "hallowed ground." More than 50,000 people died in three days on that great and terrible field of battle.
       As part of The Gathering with LCI we visited Gettysburg (only about 45 minutes' drive from York). We had a driving tour and then visited the recently-opened Gettysburg Museum on the grounds of the battlefield (an amazing museum, by the way).
       There were so many heroic leaders at Gettysburg - on both the Union and Confederate lines of battle. This was not only tactical leadership (such as Chamberlain's Maine 20th holding Little Round Top), but rather moral leadership. Robert E. Lee is the prototype for this leadership, holding in great tension his faith in God and God's mysterious providence in matters of a civil war.
       I found myself grieved by the comparison of war in the 19th century and war in the 21st century. Gettysburg was deeply personal, it was brother against brother fighting for causes that many believed in firmly. Warfare today is impersonal, it is drone strikes and inter-continental missiles. It is no less gruesome than 1863 at Gettysburg, it is simply more removed from our personal realities. I find that quite grievous.
       Joshua Chamberlain said this of Gettysburg at the 25th anniversary of the battle: "In great deeds something abides. On great fields something stays. Forms change and pass; bodies disappear, but spirits linger, to consecrate ground for the vision - place of souls."
~ Colonel Joshua Chamberlain
Speaking at the dedication of the monument to the 20th Maine
October 3, 1889, Gettysburg, PA
PS - We ate lunch at General Pickett's Buffets the afternoon of our visit. I love this picture of our fearless leader, Brian Rice, but what I love even more is that Gordon Carpenter is in the background (grey shirt) smirking over the scene!

06 August 2013

Reflections on a 'Gathering' - The Amazing Byron Borger

If you are wandering around semi-rural southeastern Pennsylvania and find Dallastown, be sure to stop at a quaint bookshop called Hearts and Minds. It is owned by the incomparable Byron Borger, lover of books galore and encyclopedic in regards to the printed word.
       Byron gave a talk to the LCI Gathering participants one evening about his passion for leaders to be readers. It was both riveting and compelling.
       The evening we were at Hearts and Minds I told Byron that I am spending the summer reading various memoirs, something I have not done very much in the past.
       Byron brought me over to the Memoirs and Biographies section and began scanning the titles. He must have mentioned 8 or 10 books in a span  of 2 minutes, one better than the previous mentioned. He gave me very brief synopses and left me to ponder how in the world I could ever read so many amazing books!
       I chose one, "North of Hope," somewhat randomly after realizing that every book that Byron had recommended is an incredible resource and story.
       So this is a special Thank You to Byron Borger and Hearts and Minds bookstore in little Dallastown, PA. You have inspired me anew to read broadly.


05 August 2013

Reflections on a 'Gathering' - Lifelong Learning

I spent a wonderful time last week in York, PA with the community of Leadership Connextions International. (check out their brand new website) A decade ago my close friend and colleague Brian Rice and I birthed LCI with a vague notion/vision of journeying with leaders in their growth and development.
       After a couple of years I moved on from LCI and Brian continued to develop it, with a great group of people in York. Last week was a culmination of a vision to bring partners of LCI together for a week of spiritual nourishment, community, and catching up. I simply LOVED IT! Being with life-giving people who are intentional learners was beautiful. I cannot wait until we can be together again.
       I have a few specific reflections at The Gathering, which I will post today, tomorrow, and the next day. The first one is this: LIFELONG LEARNING IS AT THE CORE OF LCI AND WHAT WE ARE ALL ABOUT.
       I was struck by the breadth and depth of understanding and learning by this group of 20 plus people. Many of us did short talks on subjects of interest and passion to us. For example, Barry spoke on the importance of beauty and was so insightful and challenging. The diversity of topics was such a blessing to us.
       It was also humbling for me to be around people who are so wired for a certain type of learning. Their Strength Finders profiles include: Input, Learner, Intellection, Belief. They are avid readers and consume books, articles, journals, etc. like a vacuum cleaner sucks up dust from the floor!
       I have to "raise my game" in the area of input, even though that is not one of my "strengths." No excuse - just have to continue to learn and grow. That was a great challenge and encouragement to me.

04 August 2013

The Problem with Narcissists

A number of very dysfunctional people (all male, by the way) are in the news these days. I know several other leaders who are equally dysfunctional, but they are not in the spotlight.
       What do these unhealthy people have in common, and why does this narcissism seem so rampant? There are several common factors:
      ** They believe they are above the law. Alex Rodriguez has said he will fight any suspension from baseball, as if the rules do not apply to his actions. Why would Major League Baseball make an exception for him if they did not for Ryan Braun? People such as A-Rod have a delusional sense that the rules do not apply to them.
     ** They have women in their lives who enable their dysfunction. I feel sad for Huma Abedin, the wife of Anthony Weiner. But I wonder why she stays with him and even defends
him at some points? Over and over again I see grossly narcissistic men in positions of power who manipulate and use the women who are closest to them.
     ** They have natural abilities and talents that are extraordinary. Nobody doubts that A-Rod is one of the greatest hitters in baseball history. Anthony Weiner did not get to be a US congressman unless he had vision and the ability to communicate that vision very well. It seems that their great abilities become one of the great stumbling blocks of their lives.
     ** The best opportunity for them to change is for them to be caught, which likely means being found guilty of a crime. I vividly remember watching on TV when Jim Bakker was arrested, handcuffed, and escorted from his church by state troopers. He melted in despair as his world came crashing in on him. It was incredibly sad, and yet I believe that a glimmer of hope was birthed in that moment because Bakker could no longer manipulate people and situations.
       It feels terrible to wish for the demise of a person's career or ministry. Sometimes, however, it takes a great fall in order for a person to change at his core.