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A pilgrim’s mindful steps of spiritual discovery and divine surprise.

Lent 2016

Posted by on Jan 26, 2016 in followership, formation, Holidays, Lent | 0 comments

Here’s my choice: Check this out from the description and see if it resonates: “What are you giving up for Lent?” we are asked. Our minds begin to whirl: Chocolate? Designer coffee? Social media? Forty days later, some feel disappointed in their efforts (it was a limited-time blend . . . ), some feel surprised by their success (didn’t even miss it . . . ), but perhaps precious few feel spiritually renewed. Can such fasts alone truly prepare us to celebrate Easter? Or any other chosen time of reflection during the year? Or could it be that before we can be duly awed by resurrection, we need to daily honor crucifixion? 40 Days of Decrease emphasizes a different type of fast. What if you or your church fasted comparison? What if your family fasted accumulation? What if your office fasted gossip? 40 Days of Decrease guides readers through a study of Jesus’ uncommon and uncomfortable call to abandon the world’s illusions, embrace His kingdom’s reality, and journey cross-ward and beyond. ( Amazon )   I would love to hear from others on what is guiding them toward the cross and the tomb this year....

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Advent’s Invitation

Posted by on Dec 2, 2015 in formation, gifts, Holidays | 0 comments

  I wrote this poem in 2006 and I post it each year at the beginning of Advent…mostly for myself. By this time in the year my mind is often noisy. I have become impatient and entitled. I have been swept up into the pace of Christmas and it’s trappings. So read ahead if you’d like but today this is for me.   Tis the season to celebrate His birth Marking the moment when God became flesh When the almighty was swaddled and bundled Entrusted to a teenaged mother and a surrogate dad, Nervous and humbled they took their place in the story.   Tis the season to make room for inconvenience Opening the stable of my heart to Him When permission is given and action is taken To move around and clear out the clutter, For the Holy One desires to take up residence in me   Tis the season to accept His invitation Partnering with Him in His mission to set things right When we work for justice and care for the poor Steps ordered by compassion and generosity Busy living His prayer of bringing heaven to earth   Tis the season to contemplate His return Looking forward to the completion of redemption With might and goodness and grace A new reality is ushered in – a new heaven and a new earth A new day has dawned – a groom returning to claim His bride   Advent is a narrative that beckons me to step in Advent is a means of holiness that invites me to change Advent is a lifestyle of passion that invites me to serve Advent is a glimpse of life to come that invites me to hope   Advent is an invitation...

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PAY ATTENTION, the season is here

Posted by on Nov 23, 2015 in family, followership, formation, Holidays | 0 comments

  It was December of 1989. We lived in south Florida less than a mile from the beach. Tall royal palm trees lined the sidewalks. Mango, lemon and orange trees grew throughout the neighborhood. Tyler was 3 ½ and Zack was 1 ½ years old. We were always out in the backyard with them either playing in the sand or splashing in their plastic pool. Clothing often optional. When Christmas break rolled around some family members came to visit. It was great. The activity around our house amped up for a week. The commotion got louder and the pace quickened significantly. Now, throughout the years I’ve lived in a many places and have celebrated holidays a number of ways. This particular year our dinner was very traditional complete with a feast of turkey, stuffing, corn casserole, and all the other fixings. I’m surprised we even noticed the knock at the door that afternoon. An elderly woman that I had never laid eyes on stood on the stoop. She introduced herself and pointed to her second story residence diagonally across the street. She said that she and her husband had enjoyed watching our family play in the yard. Her comment wasn’t made in a creepy way but rather more of a neighborly observation. The conversation stalled shortly after that. The woman’s gaze shifted down. She shuffled. I could feel the tension building until finally she admitted what she had come for. “It’s just my husband and I. We don’t have any family. (long pause) And we really don’t have anything to eat.” The others inside could hear what was transpiring on our little porch and leaped into action. I’m not sure if it was humility or embarrassment but he woman would not come in, so we began to package up everything we could and I assured her that I would be right over. In no time I was climbing their rickety stairs balancing a cardboard box spilling over with Tupperware and zip lock bags filled with deliciousness. But this would not be a quick stop. The woman introduced me to her husband, an aged lanky man who was very polite and gracious. He invited me to sit down. Their front windows peered over our back yard less than a hundred yards away. In spite of their obvious hunger pangs they deferred their Christmas dinner in order to tell me about themselves. As he began to tell their story the wife moved quickly to get a scrapbook and a couple photo albums. We flipped through the pages as the man narrated. Immediately I recognized that my poor and lonely neighbors once ran with the entertainment elite in the 1920’s. Those were the golden years of Broadway. Black & white photos now yellowed corroborated their tales. Pages filled with clippings and pictures with younger versions of the people sitting in front of me hob-nobbing with Fred Astaire and mentioned in the same breath as George Gershwin and Irving Berlin. Now they were scraping by – broke and forgotten. I only lived across the street from them another month…only visited with them a couple other times. My point? I’m not sure. I don’t know why that story was resurrected from the dark tomb of my memory today. But I think the holiday season can expose...

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Finding the Hidden Gifts

Posted by on Nov 16, 2015 in family, grief, Holidays | 0 comments

  This time of year is always an interesting stretch for me. I’m never sure how it will go. Some years it’s smooth sailing and other years it’s more turbulent. Over the next 40 days I will  mark both my parents birthdays, remember the day of my dad’s passing, miss my children deeply, and spar a few rounds with the ghosts of Thanksgiving and Christmas past. A few years ago I was sharing my dread of this season with my spiritual director when she asked the most constructive question I’ve ever grappled with. “What are the hidden gifts in the midst of all the pain and dread?”  When I open myself up (rather than numbing, medicating, avoiding, denying, etc) and allow that question to probe my heart and mind I find the first hidden gift… I was shaped by a family who loved well in the midst of all their imperfections. If they hadn’t I wouldn’t miss them and periodically battle sadness during the holidays. In many ways and at first reflection, I had the most amazing childhood. On my dad’s side of the family I had a bunch of cousins and we all lived within a half an hour of each other. My earliest memories were preserved and perpetuated by 8mm home movies, many of which flickered images of the entire gagle of us at my grandparents’ farm on Sunday afternoons. My grandma was a spiritual giant who didn’t stand five feet tall. My grandpa was a barrel chested scoffer who didn’t attend church and made it difficult for my grandma to. Looking back I wonder if these Sunday afternoons weren’t her times of worship. My aunts all had beautiful voices. It wasn’t uncommon for them at some point to gather around the piano and sing, working out the melodies and harmonies like only sisters can. But a different type of music continued throughout the day. It was the song of squealing grandkids. Imprompto ball games popped up for the big kids as well as wagon rides behind the tractor for us littler ones. I can still picture my grandpa on his tractor, straw hat on his head and a corncob pipe clinched loosely between his teeth. The sermons at these sacred assemblies were found in the stories being told. Wisdom was shared in the barn, under the hood of a car, and in the kitchen. Fathers to sons, mothers to daughters, brothers to sisters. The old and young shuffled and regrouped throughout the day. My dad had five siblings who spanned a wide range of age and spiritual temperature, but at the sanctuary on East Dodge Rd, we were all welcome, accepted, instructed and loved. The passing of the peace happened as grandma spent time with each of us individually and in small clusters, looking us in the eye, sharing her love…God’s love…with us. And though she has been gone many years I appreciate that time more now than ever. My grandma had every reason to not to be a person of peace and every reason to be bitter, lonely, angry, closed off, and defeated. But she was sweet. Someone else’s actions did not determine her worth or deter her from her purpose which was to love God with all that she was and love her neighbor...

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Now that Pastor’s Appreciation Month is Over…

Posted by on Nov 4, 2015 in church, pastoral care | 0 comments

  I’m not sure when it started but for quite some time October has been designated Pastor Appreciation month. Many of us have been blessed by caring Christians with gifts of all sorts. And I want to say thank you.  But I also want to offer four creative ways to continue to support your pastor. Suggest a walking meeting. The next time you need to meet with her/him, and if at all possible, meet them at a trail in the park, a sidewalk in a scenic neighborhood, or at even at the track. This helps in several ways. First, it gets your pastor up and moving. I like to meet people early for breakfast meetings and go out for lunch as much as the next guy, but most of us are eating ourselves to death. Suggesting a walk helps your pastor combat a sedinary lifestyle that often goes from meal meeting to meal meeting. Second, it gives your pastor permission to be out of the office. Phones are turned off. No computer to be distracted by. No email to check. A walking appointment reminds us that a lot of life and ministry happens outside the walls of the church. (yes, they need to be reminded of that) Third, it is a better way to talk about important stuff. There is something about walking side by side that makes communication, even about difficult issues easier, especially for men. The pace and rhythm of a walk allows space for more affective listening, time for silence, and thoughtful responses. Use a prayer trigger. A prayer trigger is simply a reminder. Usually it’s a sight or a sound that reminds us to pray for someone or something specific. Your pastor needs prayer and no doubt you want to support her/him with your prayers. But no matter how earnest we are in trying to follow through, we usually fall short. Don’t beat yourself up though. People are generally forgetful. So the key is to attach a trigger – something we see or hear throughout the day – to our pastor. For example, if your pastor likes motorcycles train yourself to pray for him every time you hear a motorcycle, see a motorcycle, or see a motorcycle logo. Or if your pastor is a whiz at technology, pray for her each time you turn on or wake up one of your devices. The trigger could be connected with their favorite sports team, their love for their dog, a hobby, just about anything. The key is identifying something that reminds you of them that will trigger you to pray a few sentences for a minute or so multiple times a day. Send the PK’s (preacher’s kids) an old fashion hand written note.  There is no better way to support your pastor than showing love and appreciation to their family. Think about your pastor’s kids for a minute. You realize that they are just like every other kids, right? We had our share of temper tantrums, rolling eyes, calls from the neighbors, and police visits at our house. And yet, most people still hold PK’s to a different standard than other kids. Sometimess if feels like they only hear from the congregants when they do something wrong. But they are normal and need encouragement. Use a medium that...

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The Beauty of Simplicity

Posted by on Nov 2, 2015 in formation, Missional Living | 0 comments

  Yesterday I was reminded of something: There can be great meaning and beauty in simplicity. Those people I mentioned in my last post…the ones that have been my connection to the Body…switched it up a bit yesterday. They had a friend in from out of town this weekend and so instead of doing the regular Sunday night dinner and discussion we met for worship yesterday morning. We gathered at a home, drank coffee, had breakfast while simultaneously helping and dodged energetic kids. You’ve been in those rooms buzzing with activity, filled with smells and sights and sounds that cause you to smile unknowingly. There wasn’t much of a plan. We knew we’d eat, Chad would lead us in a few songs, John would bring a homily, and that we would share in the Lord’s Supper. But we didn’t organize anything specific for the kids, a dozen or so who ranged from toddler to teenager. We didn’t have words to the songs other than the ones we could conjure from memory or pick up as Chad did his best to forecast. We didn’t know who was in charge at times. We didn’t do or have so many things that we often feel like we have to do or have to meet corporately. Sometimes we get so focused on the elements of having a worship service, we miss out on worship. As followers of Jesus, members of His Body, all week we are broken and poured out for the sake of others. Gathering together for worship is where we are put back together and poured into. It can happen in large auditoriums with all the bells and whistles. If that’s where it happens for you, go for it! Embrace it! Pursue it! However, it can happen in other places. Simple places. Unexpected places. If that’s where it happens for you, go for it! There is nothing wrong with you. One size doesn’t fit all. For me I am finding it more and more in simple and chaordic places/times like yesterday. God was in the midst of us in that living room. And I don’t know if it was in spite of all we didn’t have and do or because of it, but He was clearly present. He was present in the breaking of bread. He was present in our songs of confession and praise. He was present in the teaching from the written word. He was present in the remembrance of His broken body and shed blood. I was put back together and poured into… …as a toddler danced …as people wiped their tears …as I sat on the floor with...

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Can I be honest?

Posted by on Oct 28, 2015 in followership, formation | 0 comments

  Rarely am I a brave writer. I hedge my bets and worry about what people think. I shy away from pulling back the curtain even though I know I overestimate my scope of influence. While I type, edit, delete, retype, delete, repeat, a litany of what-if’s flash through my mind, the most haunting being, “What if I say something that causes someone to go sideways spiritually?” But today I take a small but necessary step away from needing your approval and acknowledge the fact that I do not have the power to lead you astray. Here goes: I gave up church for Lent last year and haven’t gone back. By ‘church’ I mean the large Sunday morning gathering. By ‘haven’t gone back’ I mean that while I’ve visited and even preached at large gatherings that take place on Sunday morning, sitting in a room with several hundred people, singing songs, and listening to a sermon has not been part of my spiritual formation process for nine months. Instead I’ve taken long walks, prayed with my feet, eaten big breakfasts, sat and talked in my living room, and experienced Sabbath. About halfway into this very different routine I started having dinner with a group of people on Sunday nights. They have been gracious to make room for me at their table and for now that is my connection to the Body. There are things I miss about corporate worship. I miss voices lifting up lyrics, both old and new, that remind us of the goodness, greatness, and sufficiency of our God. I miss the Eucharist. I miss how sacred silence is when observed together. I miss moments when the ancient text captures and directs us. But I do not miss leaving frustrated and feeling disconnected. I’m trying to be grateful for the ache for community I carry. It means I have not resigned my life to an existence, right? But I can’t help but wonder is something is broken…in me…in church…in both? Or is something changing…in me…in church…in both? Or is it both of the both’s? I’m in no place to answer those questions today. I just wanted to be honest about where I am. However, I am prepared to make one declaration: I know I am not alone. There are a lot of us who find ourselves with thoughts and feelings about the Bride who nurtured us…and we’re not sure we can speak them aloud. The other evening a new friend took the risk and shared his experience. “Week after week I’d go [to church] thinking, ‘This is the week I meet some people…some guys…and finally I’ll feel apart,’ but it never happened.” I’m definitely not angry. Probably a little sad. But honestly I’m optimistic – it’s like there is a new threshold ahead for the Church in the west, a liminal space of leaving and entering. There is trepidation. There is excitement. There is recognition that, as Christine Valters Paintner says, “When we begin to cross the threshold, we are confronted with the greatness of our unknowing. We are called to recognize that we do not know what the future brings. This allows us to rest in humility rather than theological platitudes.”  And there is trust in the One who is near and at...

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Sometimes a simple change makes a big difference

Posted by on Oct 22, 2015 in formation | 0 comments

  For a long time journaling has been my go-to spiritual discipline. Which is kind of funny because no one ever taught me how to journal. Somewhere along the way I realized that writing down what I was thinking, feeling, and hoping for, was a natural way for me to connect with God and start my day with a focus. I would… Read – typically a Psalm and a passage assigned and aligned with the church calendar Jot – write down what jumps out Ponder – think about how the scriptures intersect my life…Is there a command to obey, a promise to hold on to, a confession I need to make? Pray – listening silently and then giving voice to my requests or writing them in my journal Read from another source and ponder some more – this time taking note of other pieces of wisdom helpful to my formation. The process was definitely good in the moment and maybe for a few days at a time. But rarely did I go back through my stacks of journals to revisit: prayers prayed (were any of them answered)…significant passages (was I experiencing any transformation)…or find quotes that I wanted to utilize for personal motivation or talks I was giving. But then I stumbled across one of these? When I was in fifth grade and maybe sixth, this was the most awesome thing a kid could have in his desk. (Disclaimer: this was 4-5 years before the Trapper Keeper was invented) I don’t know why they were so cool though. Teachers seemed to hate pens and always wanted us to use pencils. Ah wait, maybe that was it! Multi-colored forbidden fruit at the tip of your fingers that you could annoyingly click your way from black to blue to green to red. Anyway… Now, over forty years later I have a rekindled love for the “Bic 4 Color.” Why? Because this corny looking ancient writing utensil from the 70’s has transformed by journaling practice. I began to color code my journal. Red = scripture references and verses that jump out at me Black = my thoughts Blue = quotes Green = people and issues I’m praying about I still follow a similar format (read, jot, ponder, pray) but now it’s much more useful, helpful, and meaningful over the long haul. That’s the point, isn’t it? Following Jesus is as Eugene Peterson says, “A long obedience in the same direction.” There are starts, stalls, stops, and restarts. The voice in our head berates us with, “give up, you’ve tried, it doesn’t work.” But remember there is Another voice which is more like a whisper that says, “you can do it, I believe in you, begin again.” I’m not saying my process is the only way or that you have to follow it. And I don’t mean to insult your intelligence by making such a simplistic suggestion. My point is that sometimes a simple change can transform a religious checklist item into a valuable spiritual practice. Maybe it’s time to start some familiar things over again with a simple new twist; walk through your neighborhood while you pray, fast something other than food, use a different translation of the Bible, get a new journal, or even buy a four color...

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One for the Bucket List

Posted by on Oct 19, 2015 in Stories | 0 comments

  I have come to love the TimeHop app. This happened four years ago today and is still one of my favorite memories from my trips to Portland.   I really never know what kind of adventures I’ll have when I come to Portland. That has become as much of the learning process as the formal education at George Fox Seminary. I’ve been fortunate to have made a connection with a family in Portland that is gracious enough to let me stay at their house. Tony and Aimee have a wonderful spirit of hospitality often letting people stay for a variety of durations. Early in the planning process – one of the other housemates remembered that they would all be going to a birthday party my first night in town. “You should come with us. It will be great!” he said. “Oh, um, yeah, well, maybe,” I stammered hoping to get out of it somehow. But I didn’t. I confessed to Tony, “I feel like a party crasher.” “You are, haha,” Tony reassured me. So we headed out to the NE side of town…to a couple’s home that I didn’t know…to attend a party I wasn’t invited to…to wish happy birthday to someone I had never met…and would probably never see again. The husband greeted us warmly at the door so I decided to act like I belonged. I smiled, I chatted, I met people, I listened to stories, I told a couple jokes, I ate some fancy food. Typical dinner party stuff. The house was packed to celebrate Katheryn’s 30th birthday. (which one was she again?) Ah…the one thanking all of us “who mean so much to her” for coming. I shuffled my feet. After that she said, “We are here to celebrate.” She referenced losing a friend recently and went on, “We are not guaranteed tomorrow, but we have today. And the best way to celebrate my birthday is to celebrate the God who loves me.” A pianist and guitar player moved into place and we began to sing a mix of hymns and spiritual songs that moved all 40 souls in the house. And then the young husband toasted his wife and invited others to share words of affirmation to Katheryn. Her dad, colleagues, college roommate, and friends filled out the portrait of the person we were there to honor. It was all very beautiful, very touching. I will never forget it. And they will not forget me because I stood on their couch and took the group picture. So here’s something for your bucket list. Just above writing a book and jumping out of an airplane, jot down, “Go to a birthday party of someone you don’t know.” You’ll be amazed and glad you...

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When Sabbath Doesn’t Include Church

Posted by on Oct 18, 2015 in Christian Subculture, formation, growth | 0 comments

  This week I had one of the best Sabbaths I’ve experienced in a long time. We slept, went out for breakfast, wandered around, rested, had conversations, admired the fall colors, walked hand in hand…it was great. I was able to spend some time writing and there was nothing on our agenda…not even church. In some people’s mind (and I used to be one of them) that cannot be. For them, Sabbath = church attendance. Sabbath is a gift from God to humanity. It is such a valuable gift the One who never gets tired created it, modeled it, and commanded it. Sabbath was given as the 24 hour period from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. It reminded Israel their value did not come from what they could produce. It was time set aside every week for them to remember they were beloved children of God who ultimately provides for them. Sabbath was given so that they may focus their attention and express their gratitude to him. Historically, Sabbath set the rhythm of life for God’s people. They would observe Sabbath, spend the next several days reflecting on it and the last half of the week preparing for it. Sabbath was more than a day off. It was the metronome of their existence; celebrate, reflect, prepare, celebrate, reflect, prepare, celebrate, reflect, prepare, celebrate. The Jewish people celebrated it on the seventh day, from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. Christians moved their celebration to Sunday in honor of the resurrection. Unfortunately many have reduced Sabbath to going to church and Sunday’s have become anything but a day of rest and reflection. There are pitfalls in equating Sabbath with church attendance. First, many churches stack the day with meetings, rehearsals, and classes. “We’ll just have this or that on Sunday since the people will already be here.” [May I remind you convenience was never a guiding value of the Kingdom] Second, when we slot Jesus in from 10-noon we start to believe the rest of the day is ours. Third, we get it backwards. The focus of Sabbath is not family, or fun, or recreation. The focal point of Sabbath is God and yet family, fun, and recreation can be wonderful instruments pointing us toward him. Sometimes I get it backwards. I bet sometimes you do too. I believe God created us to live in community and walk with others on our journey of faith. But I also believe we, like the Pharisees, can be so busy doing religious things we miss him. Here’s one practical suggestion of how to practice Sabbath: Figure out what work is for you, and don’t do...

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