30 April 2014

Susy's Pottery Introduction

Susy_Introduces_Pottery from Brian Newman on Vimeo.

Susy shared at a retreat in France recently on the image and theme of the potter and clay. Check out the expressions on the kids' and adults' faces.

28 April 2014

Heschel on Monday

“There is a passion and drive for cruel deeds which only the awe and fear of God can soothe; there is a suffocating selfishness in man which only holiness can ventilate.”
Abraham Joshua Heschel,
God in Search of Man: A Philosophy of Judaism

21 April 2014

Heschel on Monday

“The meaning of awe is to realize that life takes place under wide horizons, horizons that range beyond the span of an individual life or even the life of a nation, a generation, or an era. Awe enables us to perceive in the world intimations of the divine, to sense in small things the beginning of infinite significance, to sense the ultimate in the common and the simple; to feel in the rush of the passing the stillness of the eternal.” ― Abraham Joshua Heschel, God in Search of Man: A Philosophy of Judaism

18 April 2014

350 Matzah Balls Later...

We just finished our second Passover seder of the season. The first was in Denver with 90+ people and the second in Amsterdam with 250 people.
       That's about 350 matzah balls - thanks to my wife Susy and two crews of wonderful friends who served to make these feasts happen! Both of the seders were "self-catered," meaning a bunch of people did a lot of work to pull them off. It was great to see them work hard together and be community.
       There are many other highlights of the seders, but what stands out the most to me (for whatever reason) are the children, especially those who read the four questions.
       In Denver we had a young boy and girl, Tate and Elli,
whose families are close friends, do the reading. Steven was helping us that evening and we have a photo of him handing the microphone. That was a picture of one generation handing over the responsibility to the next. I loved that.
       In Amsterdam we had 4 young people read the questions - two in Dutch and two in English. I had forgotten the richness you experience being in a multi-cultural community and experiencing the Passover in several languages.
      The Stroomberg girl (well, at least one of them!) was thrilled at the possibility that she was the youngest person at the seder who can read. That meant she got to read the questions!
      And I love this photo of the Stroombergs with Gerard holding the microphone for his daughter as she reads. Priceless!

15 April 2014

Staying Out of Ruts

In the Springtime on some roads in the Colorado Rocky Mountains, there are major ruts that develop due to melting snow which turns to water and runs down the roadways.
       I have not gotten stuck in one of these ruts, but I have spoken to a few people who have.
       When you get stuck it's very difficult to get UNstuck!
       That sounds a lot like Church life.
       Here's an example. I have pastored in two churches where the conventional wisdom was that we had to teach a four-week series on financial stewardship every January.
       We believed that people would give more all year if we did the series - and it had to be in January, and it had to be for at least 4 weeks.
       I look back on this and realize we were in a rut, which actually may have slowed us down and made us a bit complacent. We had to do the hard work of digging away the rut and driving on level ground again.
       In a very real sense, "good enough never is." Many times government workers have the attitude of, "that's good enough." Sadly, so do churches.
      Perhaps churches articulate it a bit more subtly than that. When a church is in a rut it's prevailing mantra is, "do no harm." That is, don't make any decisions which will insult, offend, or annoy any segment of the congregation.
       What this often means is that few risks are taken, decisions are made very slowly, and (lo and behold), the church finds itself in a rut.
       No church is immune to ruts. I have led churches that were in ruts, I probably got them into the ruts! Big, strong, successful churches get into ruts because the status quo works pretty well, thank you very much.
       The problem with a rut is that it has little to do with the Kingdom of God, and what Jesus is calling the Church to as part of his mission on earth.
       Being in a rut impedes Kingdom work. It is that simple and that stark. The challenge to leaders is to identify the rut(s) that we are in, pray and ask God how he wants us to get out of the rut, and then to take bold leadership decisions to do so.

14 April 2014

On Being Unknown at My Former Church

Crossroads Church in Amsterdam, 13 April 2014

We are visiting Amsterdam for a week and worshipped with the great folks from Crossroads Church last Sunday. I pastored the church for 5 years from 2000 to 2005, and we were part of the leadership for 5 years before that as well.
       We have been back a number of times over the past 9 years. Each time there are more and more new people who "know not the former pastor!"
       I find this reality both refreshing and humbling. I like showing up at Crossroads and being able to sit in the back row with a handful of close friends from over the years. There is a certain freedom to that.
       It is also humbling and challenges my ego at times. The church marches on just fine, without me! It's quite amazing how that happens. It turns out that I am NOT that crucial as I thought. There was a time and place for my leadership, and now I am an observer to this community's life together.
       More than anything, I am very grateful ... for life-long friendships Susy and I developed over 10 years in Holland, for returning to a church community that is thriving and moving forward as they see fit, and for rich memories for our family.
       Susy and I drove into Amsterdam after church and walked around Leidseplein for a couple of hours, sat in a cafe and ate bitterballen and frites with mayonaise! It was nostalgic for me. I was quiet for the most part (which is unlike me). I felt at peace with my history in this place.

13 April 2014

Passover Begins Tomorrow

The first day of Passover is tomorrow evening at sunset. Thousands of Jewish families will gather around the table to remember ... the Exodus from Egypt, a gracious and loving God who rescues us from sin and evil.
       For a much smaller number of Jews, we also remember how a Messiah named Jesus fulfilled and completed this Exodus story.
       Last week we hosted a seder in Denver with 90+ people. This week we are in Amsterdam and will celebrate with Crossroads Church (200+ people).
       Yesterday I received a heart-warming Facebook message about celebrating Passover: 
"I'm not sure if you will remember me or recognize my face, but I was previously a member of Lookout Mountain Church. I just wanted to let you know that both my Dad and I always looked forward to and appreciated your sermons based on your unique perspective from your Jewish background. I attended two of the Seder meals you held at Lookout and we really enjoyed it. As a result, we have adopted the tradition of celebrating the Passover with a Seder dinner among friends and family. In fact, we just celebrated our 3rd Seder two nights ago. It's been a wonderful tradition, and I want to thank you for introducing us to the celebration a few years ago. Anyway, I hope things are going well for you and your family!"

Here are a few photos from last week's seder in Denver:

02 April 2014

Grieving Well

Several friends and acquaintances are grieving the loss of loved ones these days. For two of these people it is the anniversary of the death of a spouse or friend, for another it is the very recent loss.
It is naive and often foolish to have many words, or statements about their loss. I know nothing more comforting than the Mourner's Kaddish which I heard chanted every week growing up in the synagogue.
I hope that this beautiful and haunting melody will help you experience God's shalom in some small or great way.

Schindler's List Final Scene from Brian Newman on Vimeo.