Saturday, February 28, 2009

Daydreaming Captivity in a Foreign Land

I've been thinking about how people of faith blend-into the landscape of our nation. We can imagine no better kingdom than the one we are building with our stuff. How we clamor about our superior faith, but live much the same as others. In a lazy moment, I drifted into a Sunday School story memory. I can see the flannel-graph.

We’re passing away the years in Egypt. The family is getting big, and most are getting complacent. Promised Land is nicer, yet ignored. We don’t really think about it anymore.

We’re just working away in the desert—poking hard soil with inferior tools. We’re making bricks to build another king’s kingdom—with lousy material. We’re passing away the years--the lives of our parents and grandparents and so on. And now our own, and those of our children.

They know we are different, that we don’t belong here. They fear us and abuse us to keep us humble. Maybe it’s the last straw…killing baby boys. They say we have too many people, and might fight against them if enemies would arrive. What is a nation to do? How could we ever change things? We are the bricks, without straw.

Mamma had a baby boy. Says she can’t stand to see him killed. He’s too fine, handsome and loved. So she’s hid him for three months. But you can’t hide a baby that age, and if she gets caught!

She waterproofs a basket made of river reeds, and offers him to the river. Oh that river, what horrors it holds. She can’t stand to look. But I stay nearby and follow the flow of the river, walking alongside my baby brother like a shepherd.

Then I see beautiful gowns and robes, and women in them. They step into the river, and see the basket. They hear tiny sobs barking from within. Orders are given to a servant girl to fetch the basket. The king’s daughter admires my brother, and wonders what to do. It’s hard to tell yourself, ‘No’. So she doesn’t. She holds the boy close and knows he needs a nurse.

I offer to find one…my mom! Of course I don’t tell the princess it is the boy’s mother who will nurse him. I just jump at the opportunity. My forefather—Jacob—wrestled with God and men. And he won. Surely I can win some more time for my mom to be with her child.

He was home with us that evening: Crying. I guess he didn’t understand.

And so we passed away a few more years in captivity.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Sweater Hugs

I got the greatest sweater for Christmas this year! It fits just right, and is made from a wool that is perfect--it breathes, yet keeps me warm. I've already worn it while hiking in the mountains and at my Sunday morning job. I've worn it for dressy stuff and to work in the wood pile. I love my new sweater.

Last April, Shelly started knitting it at my mother's home. I had no idea she was weaving me this love-gift for the better part of the year. But every time I put it on I remember. She has held it in her hands. She has stitched each fiber, and looped it together in just the right combinations of knitting and pearling (whatever that means) and now it is my most treasured inanimate companion.

I'm working in a coffee house away from home this morning. I've thought of many of you today. Your face has come before my mind for one reason or another. And as I've sensed the Presence, I've been asking (imagining is a better word) that you are enveloped in your creator's perfect fit. Kept warm near life's cold shoulders, safe from sharp edges, and yet free to move--plenty of room to breath.

Soak in your Life today, and why not weave a prayer of love for those in your circles.


Monday, February 23, 2009

The Runaway Pastor: How will it resolve?

In The Runaway Pastor, Pastor Trent runs from two promises. First, he runs from his marriage, and then from the church he pastored.

I have a question for those of you who have read the first seven chapters of The Runaway Pastor. Do you think Trent will return to one, both or neither of his promises? What do you want him to do? Be specific about your hopes.

I am sure about some things that will happen in this book or the sequel, but some things are still hanging. Let me know what you think...

I'll look forward to your feedback.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Such a thing as glory?

I paused in the forest the other day to look at a leaf. Then a tree trunk. Then I felt a breeze. I stopped again next to a gently flowing stream.

If there were only one tree in the world, would we cherish it? Charge admission? Send pictures across cyberspace? What if even the trees were gone, would we marvel at one remaining leaf in a museum? Would we gaze at the veins in its leaves and wonder at the life that once coursed through them? Or if there was no more wind, would we fan our children and tell them of the mystery of what once was? And if our faucets went empty in a drought, what would we think of water?

Rich Mullins once sang "There is such a thing as glory, and there are hints of it everywhere." If the hints were less abundant, would the glory shine brighter? Or, as I gaze out my office window and see a forest of trees that seem to have no end--each mulched in last season's leaves, blowing in the breeze and drawing up life their roots--is it OK if I experience each chunk of ever-recreating-creation as a demonstration of glory?

I think I will.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Churches: What Are We Building?

Occasionally, we all need to reflect upon what we are building with our lives. This being a board-meeting day for me, I have reflected for a moment about what we are building in our church. And the reflection has been sweet.

First, what our culture builds upon is more and more nebulous and therefore tenuous. Since truth is no more than one person's opinion and morality is up to the choice maker, in many ways we are out to sea with no moorings. I am re-reading Dallas Willard's The Divine Conspiracywhich begins with a reminder of this. (I recommend it.) So the people who join with us as the church, and those who join with us to consider our Lord and his ways, are mostly jaundiced to truth and thus reality from the very beginning.

Second, what the church builds is all to often a physical structure that makes believe it is "church." By this I not only mean our physical buildings (which so often we use to define our success), but also our gatherings. If they are not large and impressively programmed, we again assume we are not building well.

But let me submit that perhaps what we build can be as simple as a dear relationship, or a welcome to "church" (two or three gathered in Jesus name). Nearly 7 decades ago a man (so unsuccessful, I don't know his name) walked the streets of his neighborhood and invited the children to church. (That would be dangerously suspicious activity today.) One of those he invited was my aunt, who eventually invited all of her orphaned siblings into church. Now their children and theirs and theirs are largely Christian. Much good living and many strong families have been born into hope because one man, so long ago invited my aunt to church--and yes, to Jesus. I guess there are 150 people in those families who have benefited. Not to mention those who have been served by her children, and her siblings' children as they live their lives as responsible laborers, missionaries, pastors families, medical professionals, counselors, supervisors, small business owners, and others who have been blessed by the choice of one man, to give one hour on one day in the 40's to be kind to a kid in the neighborhood.

Well, if the place I work can build a few individuals like that, even if we lose our building, we have done something. If some of the children who's parents have been introduced to Jesus through the ministries I've been involved in can learn the ways of Jesus--I'll be a success. I'm really sad about how land and buildings have come to define "church." The church is too important to compare to buildings.

Grace and peace to you.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Runaway Pastor: Publishing Update

I often receive questions regarding the publication of my book, The Runaway Pastor.

Well, it's a slow world when it comes to publishing, and I'm kind of glad. I'm in another busy and exciting season of life, and it's nice to ignore the book for now. Sorry if you think I'm ignoring the blog. I'll try and do better.

A few weeks ago, my agent--Mark Gilroy--began the process of "selling" The Runaway Pastor. There has been interest from at least a couple of publishers, and as of now, we are waiting. "One has declined." It's a slow process, because each "house" is always reading multiple manuscripts hoping to choose just the right one. So we wait. And in this case, I'm enjoying the wait.

In the mean time, more and more people are downloading the newest version of first seven chapters. I would appreciate you pointing out any errors you find. I have found them every time I have reread. Email them to me, or comment--either way I'd be grateful.

Also, I appreciate your presence here. You are welcome and invited to join the growing numbers of "followers." That feature helps me know who some of you are. I'd also welcome any comments along the way. Most people are shy when it comes to commenting.

And, I'm just going to ask. If you are from Taylorsville, IN and you are following, I'd love it if you would email me and let me know who you are. You are leading most states in visits to this site! I am grateful for your presence, but so curious to know who... :)

Peace to all of you. Thanks for following along. And let me know what you like here. I've included discussion of pastoral depression, commentary on the church, devotional thoughts, journaling, etc. Let me know what you enjoy finding when you show up here.


Thursday, February 12, 2009

Dealing with MEsses: Guilt or Shame?

I meet with people regularly who are dealing with messes in their lives. Addictions, resentments, sorrows, depressions abound. This is especially so, it seems in the shorter and darker days of winter.

Funny thing, I mess-up too. (And it feels good just to say it.) And sometimes it feels weird having these people (who have made mistakes) come to me. The only redeeming thing about having people approach me with their mistakes is that I have a good place to send them--a Higher Source of Healing.

This morning, as I was studying for my weekend teaching, I read an important distinction. "Guilt is saying, 'I made a mistake.' And shame is saying, 'I am a mistake.'"

Guilt is an important response for our wrong-doings. It seems to me that until we can experience legitimate guilt, we are doomed to remain who we are, and those we hurt, will perhaps live under our unintended curse. No progress, no maturity is possible without admission of regret, without being sorry and changing.

My faith teaches that we are stamped with the image of God. We mess up--sin--yes. But deep within each person is the image of God waiting to be recognized, restored and cherished for its beauty and significance. This is what Christ does. This is what the church is to do.

Shame however, is an unintentional slander of ourselves and--I believe--our Maker. Christian faith should not be shame-producing. It should rather point to the freedom from guilt that is available. Freedom is a rare word midst many people of faith. But it was the trademark of Christ, and his early followers. Hear Him say: "Neither do I condemn you! Go and sin no more." In other words, "You are free! I love you! Now quit doing this stuff that hurts others and yourself."

Just some thoughts about dealing with people like me, who find ourselves needing fixed after the messes we make.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Love is all around you.

Wow, a week without the internet! I didn't plan it that way, but that's how things turned out. Shelly and I stayed in a nice place in the mountains this past week where we had no cell coverage, and no internet. And this is what I dreamed on Friday night...

Waves are in the air. Everywhere. Penetrating everything--you, me. Radio talk and music humming right through us. Wireless internet, cell phone calls and text messages are flying by us (and through us) nearly everywhere and all the time. Except here, and in other places like this. Places where all is quiet.

After the dream, I woke, feeling a need to express love to the Mighty One. And the Mighty One spoke back. Comfort--signals enhanced by the silence--moved through the night around me and into me. As certainly as any cell signal, Love permeated all.

Next day, my wife and I were hiking in the mountains, filtering water out of a rushing stream and listening to the wind in the old-growth forest. No cell or internet signals there. Occasional stops to breathe deeply, hold hands and gaze at the soaring peeks above. The atmosphere was full: Packed full with signals of love and goodwill and joy.

Be still and know that I am God.

It is good to be home again (with all the signals blasting silently past). Yet I want to remain aware of the Presence. And I want to nurture an awareness that welcomes the Saturation.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be. World without end. Amen