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

A few things I don’t get about the Christian subculture

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

  I don’t get our infatuation with youth. Let me say, youth is awesome and I wish I were younger but stick with me here. Like you, I get industry magazines one which is specifically designed for those who plan religious gatherings and meetings. On it’s cover was, “Top 40 under 40.” Now maybe I reacted negatively because I’m quite few years north of 40 these days. Maybe I’m jealous because I never made anyone’s list like that. But I want to believe my visceral reaction came because this mostly Christian focused publication shouts, “We’ve bought into the same things everyone else has; new is better than old, shiny is better than worn, and the talent of youth is more valuable than the wisdom of the aged.” I look back at what I did by the time I was 40 and there are a couple things I’m very proud of. I planted a church with some wonderful people. It continues to impact a community that I love. I also did a pretty good job as a dad. I had two teenage boys and an 8 year old daughter by the time I was 40. But I also look back on those days and realize I didn’t know jack squat compared to what I know now. And the things I thought I knew…I’ve changed my position on most of them. Looking back, I didn’t belong on anyone’s list! I don’t get our fixation on the phrase, “The Word.” That can almost always be translated, “Bible.” Whenever I hear someone say that in an authoratative insider tone of voice, I want to ask, “Are you talking about the written words or the living Word that John talked about…you know the Word that was in the beginning, the Word that was with God and is God, the Word that became flesh and lived among humanity?” I don’t say that though because I was brought up to be polite and that would be nasty so I smile and nod. I don’t get what people mean when they say, post, tweet, “I just want to see revival break out.” The statement comes with a lot of assumptions…like we all know what revival means and what it looks like and what will change if it comes. The more I hear it the less I get it. And the more it’s left to one sentence like that, the more confused I am. I’m not against revival (whatever we decide it is). It sounds really good, but on this Friday I need to confess something. In spite of going to revival services and even helping to plan semi-annual revivals (wow that sure seems weird to see that in print), I don’t really know what you’re talking about. If you’re still reading…and I hope you are…there is one more thing I don’t get. It is something I plan on writing about all next week. I don’t get why we so uncompassionate with ourselves; the negative self talk, self hatred. A friend shared an old hymn with me a while back entitled, “There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy,” by Frederick William Faber Here is verse 1 and 11 1. There’s a wideness in God’s mercy, Like the wideness of the sea; There’s a kindness in His justice, Which is more than liberty....

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Reconnecting Your Head to Your Heart

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

  Do you ever wonder why we rarely experience long term change even though we really mean it when we declare our resolve to start something, stop something, do more, do less, and change? Well… Sometimes our goals aren’t big enough. We often don’t have a plan. No one has been invited to walk with us on our journey. We resist admitting that the power to change is beyond us. One of the things I miss about pastoring is being able to stand in front of a group of people and assure them that no matter where they are or what they are experiencing God is near, concerned, and accessible. To be part of God’s awakening process is both thrilling and humbling. I know…Sunday sermons aren’t the only vehicles that God uses…in fact I’m sure he’s had to intercept what came out of my mouth way more than once. But I have vivid memories of people encountering hope. Often times their eyes well up, their cheeks redden, their posture changes, and they nod unknowingly. The message informs, excites, and moves us toward the mission (the identity and calling) God has for us. Naturally we get excited. We might even get a new Bible or buy a new journal. And for a few weeks we do great. Sermons and podcasts keep us going. Our small group or Sunday school class keep us on track. And for a few more weeks we do alright. We’re doing things…good things…things we’re supposed to do…but if we’re really honest it feels like we’ve just exchanged one type of busyness for another. And in our quiet honest moments we hear ourselves wonder, “Where is the life? Where is the joy? Where is the change?” Do you ever feel like that? I do sometimes. The answer is not: Leave your church, drop out of small group and put your Bible on the shelf. The answer may be: Try something different. Take a few minutes and jot down answers the questions below. It is a brief experience in spiritual direction. – Describe your communication with God. How and when are you speaking to him? How are you hearing from him? – Describe the last time you felt close with God. Be sure to note when that was, where you were, and who, if anyone, was with you. – If Jesus was sitting in the chair next to you, what would you tell him? The Enlightenment period emphasized science and reason. Humanity began to seek answers by pulling things apart, observation, and examination. The scientific method was born and applied to all areas of life – including faith. So the spiritual life that once lived in the healthy tension between heart and head shifted mostly into our head. In our desire for transformation, our head has been trained to take over and we default to persuing more information and mastering certain skills as the answer. “If I only knew more about the bible…or better understood what Christianity is about…or could explain it better…that would help me grow and be the evidence that I’m changing.” I’m sorry to burst your bubble that’s simply not true. Author Dallas Willard said, “Spiritual people are not those who engage in certain spiritual practices; they are those who draw their life from a conversational relationship...

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Posted by on Aug 20, 2015 in followership, formation | 0 comments

Chances are you checked your calendar this morning making mental notes of your meetings and appointments. You probably have an idea of what your day will look like. And if you’re like me, you don’t always welcome interruptions. I was reading a story about Jesus this morning from Matthew 9. He was approached by a man whose daughter had just died. Grief mixed with faith the man confessed, “If you come and touch her, she will live.” I can’t imagine the tension, emotion, and urgency of that moment. I struggle to relate to the pain that father was feeling. Matthew doesn’t describe it. He simply says, “Jesus got up and went with him.”  If you keep reading Matthew’s account something happens before Jesus gets to the man’s house. “Just then…” …a woman took a risk …a woman’s hope became action …a woman exercised her faith   “Just then…” …Jesus was interrupted …Jesus saw the woman, really saw her …Jesus welcomed her as a human, not an interruption   “Just then…” …the woman was changed   She was changed because Jesus didn’t see her as an interruption to his schedule, an obstacle to get around, or a problem to be solved. The people you and I encounter today (whether they are on our calendar or not) are not interruptions. They are human beings who bear the image of God. Some of them will take a risk, act on their faith, tipping their hand to give you a window into what’s really going on in their world. Will we see them, really see them? I hope...

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An open letter to the good people in the pews

Posted by on Jul 2, 2015 in followership, formation, leadership | 0 comments

  First, I want to thank you for your faithfulness as a regular attender of a local congregation. You serve, give, pray, volunteer, show up, teach children, invest in teenagers, care for the grieving, celebrate births, and open your family. I would not be who I am or love Jesus as I do if it weren’t for the laity who helped shape me as a person and a pastor. Pastoring can be the most thrilling and amazing thing to give your life to. Maybe your pastor is in one of those wonderful seasons where everything is in sync. The right team is in place, people are unified, and God’s direction for your church is clear and being pursued. If that’s the case, stop right now and thank God. But I need to tell you something that I was reminded of again this week…pastoring can be as painful as it is fulfilling.  In research that is distilled from Barna, Focus on the Family, and Fuller Seminary, and additional information from reviewing others’ research: Fifteen hundred pastors leave the ministry each month due to moral failure, spiritual burnout, or contention in their churches. (Some have numbers as high as 1700-2000 who leave each month) Fifty percent of pastors’ marriages will end in divorce. Eighty percent of pastors feel unqualified and discouraged in their role as pastor. Fifty percent of pastors are so discouraged that they would leave the ministry if they could, but have no other way of making a living. Eighty percent of seminary and Bible school graduates who enter the ministry will leave the ministry within the first five years. Seventy percent of pastors constantly fight depression. Almost forty percent polled said they have had an extra-marital affair since beginning their ministry. Seventy percent said the only time they spend studying the Word is when they are preparing their sermons. Most statistics say that 60% to 80% of those who enter the ministry will not still be in it 10 years later, and only a fraction will stay in it as a lifetime career. How is this possible? It is possible because pastoring can be an incredibly lonely vocation. I hear it all the time from pastors in a variety of traditions. Many minister within systems that are plagued with competition and pecking orders. Many of their existing structures, while not originally put in place to foster inauthenticity, have evolved into environments where being vulnerable is nearly impossible. Many are measured on things they have no control over. Many feel like they have no one they can talk to. And on top of everything, we have an enemy knows how to isolate and attack. Therefore, good people in the pew, give your pastor a break. I look forward to unpacking this...

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The Ignatian Examen

Posted by on Jun 19, 2015 in followership, formation, growth | 0 comments

All this talk of pace, attention, and reflection are not ends in themselves. They are vehicles that can press us further into intimacy with God through prayer. Think for a moment about your prayers. Mine often go like this…and please be assured that I am NOT suggesting mine as a model by any means. They usually start with a little gratitude, thanking God for a few things which can be anything from Jesus to my family who loves me to the dog not having an accident on the kitchen floor. Then I typically move on to asking, a lot of asking. Then when I’m done with my list I head into the “in Jesus name, Amen.” But a man called Ignatius of Loyola, who lived back around 1500, had a very different process than many of us today.  It is as follows: 1. Become aware of God’s presence. Look back on the events of the day in the company of the Holy Spirit. The day may seem confusing to you—a blur, a jumble, a muddle. Ask God to bring clarity and understanding. 2. Review the day with gratitude. Gratitude is the foundation of our relationship with God. Walk through your day in the presence of God and note its joys and delights. Focus on the day’s gifts. Look at the work you did, the people you interacted with. What did you receive from these people? What did you give them? Pay attention to small things—the food you ate, the sights you saw, and other seemingly small pleasures. God is in the details. 3. Pay attention to your emotions. One of St. Ignatius’ great insights was that we detect the presence of the Spirit of God in the movements of our emotions. Reflect on the feelings you experienced during the day. Boredom? Elation? Resentment? Compassion? Anger? Confidence? What is God saying through these feelings? God will most likely show you some ways that you fell short. Make note of these sins and faults. But look deeply for other implications. Does a feeling of frustration perhaps mean that God wants you consider a new direction in some area of your work? Are you concerned about a friend? Perhaps you should reach out to her in some way. 4. Choose one feature of the day and pray from it. Ask the Holy Spirit to direct you to something during the day that God thinks is particularly important. It may involve a feeling—positive or negative. It may be a significant encounter with another person or a vivid moment of pleasure or peace. Or it may be something that seems rather insignificant. Look at it. Pray about it. Allow the prayer to arise spontaneously from your heart—whether intercession, praise, repentance, or gratitude. 5. Look toward tomorrow. Ask God to give you light for tomorrow’s challenges. Pay attention to the feelings that surface as you survey what’s coming up. Are you doubtful? Cheerful? Apprehensive? Full of delighted anticipation? Allow these feelings to turn into prayer. Seek God’s guidance. Ask him for help and understanding. Pray for hope. St. Ignatius encouraged people to talk to Jesus like a friend. For the next week, end your days with the Daily Examen. Work your way through the five steps above and have a different type of conversation with...

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Pilgrims Pay Attention to Pace

Posted by on Jun 16, 2015 in followership, formation, growth | 0 comments

The concept of pace is critical. For a runner to perform at their peak they need to run at the right pace. For our bodies to function correctly the heart must beat at a consistent pace. For the pilgrim, proper pace holds three things in tension: Attention to what is. Reflection upon what was. Anticipation for what will be. In the canyon I recently hiked, your pace will make you or break you. Water is limited. High ground in the narrows is sparce and there is danger of flash flooding. Questions like…”did I eat enough, will I have enough food to last me the week, did I bring too much, should we push hard for a while and rest or go slower longer, do we want to camp near water or carry it with us?” What I’ve learned in my 11 years of backpacking is that we often default to “hurry,” just like we do in our everyday life. Hurry reveals a perverted relationship with time. We hurry when we’ve mismanaged time, when we’re running late, when we’re trying to squeeze things in, when we’re overcommitted, when we’ve failed to say ‘no,’ because it makes us feel important, and a mirade of other reasons. But I stick with what I said, hurry reveals a perverted relationship with time. How can I say that? Because Jesus is the Christian Pilgrim’s model and there is not even a whiff of hurry in him. Don’t play the old, “But he was God,” card here. If his life was not followable then God is a cruel trickster and someone I’m not sure I want to devote my life to. In Jesus we certainly see urgency and passion. He had more to do in less time than anyone in history. But there is no hurry. He had time for prayer. He had time for conversations. He had time for the people on the edges; scoundrals, children, prostitutes, disenfranchised, and the broken. He had time to take side trips, go to parties, notice the flowers and birds, and time to point them out to the hurried people around him. So how do we live more at Jesus’ pace than at the pace of a culture who wears busyness as a badge of honor? Here are a few suggestions: Right now give God your to-do list and give him permission to change it. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you welcome the interruptions that will come. And when someone interrupts the task you’re working on, behold them, look into their eyes, remember they are a person, listen, and remember that they are beloved by God as much as you are. Just for fun pay attention for the next day or so to how many people respond to the question, “How are you doing?” with, “Busy.” I think you’ll be surprised and a bit...

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The First Shift in Becoming a Pilgrim

Posted by on Jun 13, 2015 in followership, formation, growth | 0 comments

The irony of this topic is that my current job is in the tourism industry. My objective is to convince you to come to our town, have fun, spend money, go home, tell your friends, come back, repeat. No doubt that is a bit of an over-simplification but it is the general outline as I understand it. Have you ever come home from a vacation and needed another vacation to rest up from the first one? I sure have. That’s because being a tourist…seeking entertainment, experiences, and adventures as ends in themselves can be exhausting. I remember when my kids were little the most common question on vacation was, “What are we doing after this, dad?” Imagine living your entire life as a tourist swept up in the frantic pace of “what’s next?” Many people do. Maybe you are. Even church, religion, spirituality, or whatever you prefer to call it, can become a flurry of activity. Following Jesus in America begins to look a lot like the objective of the tourism industry; come, engage, give money, go home, tell your friends, come back, repeat. And that drags with it the notion, “If I’m doing more, I must certainly be doing better.” Not necessarily. David wrote: “Doing something for you, bringing something to you – that’s not what you’re after. Being religious, acting pious – that’s not what you’re asking for. You’ve opened my ears so I can listen.” Psalm 40:6 The Message Becoming a pilgrim in a culture of tourism requires listening. How are you doing with that? Many people are too busy to really listen to the person right in front of them let alone hear the still small voice of God. Psalm 40 is a pilgrim’s confession, and key for us if we want to take a step in moving from tourist to pilgrim. It is a move from activity to contemplation, from distraction to attention. A needful shift that will help you harness activity until it flows out of a full and listening heart. So how can I do that? Becoming an everyday pilgrim is an active fight against the question, “What’s next?” and the ongoing embrace of the question, “What are You trying to show me, right here, right now?” It is about slowing down, quieting yourself, and paying attention. Here’s one practical suggestion that will help you become more attentive. Quiet yourself. (This can be done seated at home or even while you walk.) Start by breathing for 30-60 seconds, paying attention to your inhale and exhale. Then ask the Holy Spirit to bring to the surface a word or phrase from scripture. – I usually do this after I read a passage in the morning. When you have it, take time to repeat it timing it with your breath. For example: “Love is patient, love is kind.” Inhale “love is patient” and then exhale “love is kind.” Another that I’ve often used is, “Husbands love your wives as Christ loved the church.” Other things will pop into your mind like your to-do list, something that happened yesterday, a question you have about work, but push those thoughts aside and return to your word or phrase. Spend about 10 minutes breathing and reciting it, allowing it to have a centering effect on you. As...

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Tourist vs Pilgrim

Posted by on Jun 5, 2015 in followership, formation | 0 comments

  Yesterday I posted a letter from an Arab student on Facebook. It was his response to a note I wrote a number of years ago and hid in a place called the Abandon Meander in the Paria Canyon. Several guides know where it is and read it to their trail mates when they pass through the canyon. Because there have been a number of requests, I have decided to post my original letter and a photo of his translated letter here.   A Meditation for Paria Pilgrims To My Brothers To the ones who know me better than anyone and yet believe in me, and to the ones I have not yet met. I wonder: Do you travel today as a tourist or a pilgrim? What does this journey mean for you? A tourist’s goal is to fulfill as many desires as possible; cover miles, see sights, and check things off their list. To them, entertainment and adventure are ends in themselves. Their eyes flash and dart but only to catch a glimpse of what’s next…which blinds their vision and deafens their ears to who’s right here and what God’s saying. The pilgrim on the other hand, sees each journey (including the one you take this week) as part of the greater quest toward the mysterious destination called home. A pilgrimage is a way of praying with your feet. You go on a pilgrimage because you know there is something missing inside your soul, and the only way you can find it is to go to sacred places, places where God made himself known to others. In sacred places, something gets done to you that you’ve been unable to do for yourself. You are passing through a sacred space. God has revealed himself here. God has granted courage and offered encouragement here. God has confirmed callings and bestowed wisdom here. God has poured himself into dry and thirsty souls here. It is my prayer that you will travel the pilgrim way this week, but I must tell you, if you do not choose consciously, you will by default fall into the tourist life…even in a setting as majestic as the canyon. But take heart! The good news is that many have entered the slot a tourist and emerged at Lee’s Ferry a pilgrim. Though I will not be slogging through the river, sharing meals, or heating water for tea and meals at camp…I will be with you. Walk well, Rabbi   I am thrilled, humbled, and intimidated by his last sentence but will attempt to respond as best as I can over the next few weeks. Please join the conversation that we may all wrestle more effectively with “how to be closer to God and know him better.”...

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Today Be Sure to Sing the End of the Song

Posted by on Apr 18, 2014 in followership, formation | 0 comments

I grew up singing the great hymns of Wesley, Newton, Spafford, and others. But “And Can it Be” is my favorite. It became indearing to me during college. There was something about that many voices singing it in chapel. The song begins with pain and sorrow. Then it moves into the mystery of the Story. When you become familiar with the song you find yourself singing your confession and anticipating what lays ahead at the end of the song. Even when I’m confronted with the question of my unworthiness I know how the song ends. “My chains fell off, my heart was free; I rose, went forth and followed Thee.  Psalms is the hymnal of God’s people. Devout Jews knew the songs and they too could sing through the lament in anticipation of the ending.  We are all familiar with the beginning of Psalm 22. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Psalm 22:1 NIV) We point to it as when God turned His back on Jesus. I’m not opening that can of worms for debate. But what I would ask you to consider is the possibility of Jesus…in all His pain and agony…not only crying out but leading a hymn that some in the audience knew the final verses.  Today in particular it may be good for us to familiarize ourselves with the end of the song.  “But you, Lord, do not be far from me. You are my strength; come quickly to help me. Deliver me from the sword, my precious life from the power of the dogs. Rescue me from the mouth of the lions; save me from the horns of the wild oxen. I will declare your name to my people; in the assembly I will praise you. You who fear the Lord, praise him! All you descendants of Jacob, honor him! Revere him, all you descendants of Israel! For he has not despised or scorned the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help. From you comes the theme of my praise in the great assembly; before those who fear you I will fulfill my vows. The poor will eat and be satisfied; those who seek the Lord will praise him— may your hearts live forever!” (Psalm 22:1, 19-26 NIV)  This hymn, like my favorite, ends in victory and...

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A Time to Embrace the Tension

Posted by on Apr 18, 2014 in followership, formation | 0 comments

Last month I mentioned a hike…a pilgrimage that I have taken and led a number of times. The experience puts you in a place that I usually avoid. It is a place of wrestling with the tension we desparately try to eliminate. The trip is both brutal and beautiful, emotionally and physically taxing, familiar and unique, solitary and communal.    It is one way to experience the highs and lows of life in a week…highs that our routine numbs us to and lows that we are told by folk theologians and pop philosophers that we shouldn’t feel if we were doing it right.   After four days of carrying our burdens and sharing each others’…four days where everything you need crammed in your pack…four days of sleeping on the ground…four days of listening, sharing, laughing, praying, shivering and sweating, we come to my favorite place in the world to share the Lord’s Supper.  I usually talk about a pattern we see in scripture.    Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to his disciples to distribute to the people. He also divided the two fish among them all. (Mark 6:41 NIV)   While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.” (Matthew 26:26 NIV)    And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going farther. But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. (Luke 24:27-31 NIV)   The first half of the pattern we really like to think about. The second half, not so much. But Jesus makes clear in several key places that following Him involves being; Taken, Blessed, Broken, and Given.  We stand in a circle flanked by 2500 year old pictographs and a balancing rock with high canyon walls in front and behind us. We are as far away from our ruts and routines as possible and I ask the other pilgrims a question. “Which word resonates with you right now?”     Each admission is thoughtful and heartfelt. Each one a window into a man’s season of life and the activity of God in him. Communion is an opportunity to step out of our routines and remember the seasons of the Christian life. This week, resist the temptation to shift your heart and mind into neutral and embrace the tension. Take time and consider the words Taken, Blessed, Broken, and Given. Which one resonates with you?...

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