Tuesday, May 31, 2005

So much... almost overwhelming

I sit at my laptop in my dining room typing this. As I consider my day, I sip my coffee. Lying on the table just behind my computer screen is a stack of bills -- credit cards, school loans, medical, utilities, magazine bills await payment. I'm trying to plan a vacation to Alaska at the end of June as well, so there are emails and phone calls to be made in order to arrange transportation and housing.

In about 45 minutes I must wake up my wife and olded daughter, Julia. She needs to be at her swimming lesson by 9 AM. I need to be in my church office by then as well. There's a lot to do in preparation of Camp LBJ. I must prepare for students tomorrow night, work on fall and spring programming, write cards, respond to emails, clean my office, prepare sermons. The work seems endless. It only ends when I decide to stop, but I feel compelled to push on.

This afternoon at 4:30 PM, I meet with two friends to run. This afternoon before 6 PM, I need to pick up my car from the mechanic. At 6 PM, my daughter needs to be at dance rehearsal for her upcoming dance recital this Saturday.

"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." - Jesus (NIV)
"Blessed are those who recognize their need for God, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to them." - Jesus (NLT)

Maybe it's time to simplify...

Monday, May 30, 2005

What would he say to me?

My friend Mary Lou has got me thinking. In her blog yesterday she said that she related to the rich young rule and found hope in that story. That got me thinking - how would he respond to me?

I'd like to think that I would receive a loving, gentle response from him like the Samaritan woman. I'd like to think that maybe he would point to me like he pointed to the widow who gave everything when she tithed. I want to even be Zacchaeous, to whom he tells "I want to dine with you tonight." But, if I'm completely honest with myself, I probably deserve more often than not, the response he gave to the religious ones of his day.

When I get really honest about who I am, what I do and why I do it I realize that I have been religious more than being a follower of Jesus. My desire is to be a follower, not simply religious.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Passion

In a recent blog, Adam Ellis (http://adamellis.blogspot.com) asks the following question:

"Is it possible that one of the reasons that Jesus (and the idea of following Him) seems so uninteresting to most teenagers is that we have presented Him as something He wasn't (safe, bland, neutered, etc.)?"

Some students and I were talking one night about following Jesus. One student made the comment that the things they tend to be most passionate about have been those things that they have seen passion in others doing. For example, music. None of us would be passionate about music if those making it were not passionate. They also cited those classes they enjoy most. Many times it has to do with the passion of the teacher. A passionate teacher convicted by the importance of the subject could make quantum physics exciting as well as instill that in the students. I think Adam's question touches on the heart of this.

Why is it that many students (not just students) are passionate about others things, but many times not passionate about following Christ? His blog may have a point. Could it be that we have removed the way Jesus was passionate about how he lived? Could it be, that in an attempt to make Jesus marketable to the masses that we have stripped him of those very things that would stir in us a desire to follow with passion? Let me knowwhat you think.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

What will it take?

Have you ever been among a group of people where you knew nobody at all? I think this can be most intimidating, especially if you walk into a smaller group of 15-30 where you can't simply hide among the crowd. Think about the courage it takes just to walk into that room in the first place. What would it be like if you sat there for 10 minutes and the only thing anyone one said to you was hello? You sing a few songs you don't know, you exchange a few polite words with a stranger next to you. How would you feel when you left?

What will it take for us to recognize that as a gathered people, we are the living expression of God's love to anyone who steps into our church families? What will it take for us to realize that God longs to use his body to reconcile the world to himself? Yet, we seem to be so caught up in ourselves - our agendas, what we don't like about school, what so and so said about you know who, about the way we look - that we don't even recognize the opportunities the Lord places before us. We are consumed with our wants, our desires.

What will it take for us to create an atmosphere in which anyone who comes into our family feels the love of Christ by the way we embrace them and show genuine love for them?

OK, I'm off my soap box for the moment. I just want so desperately for us to realize that we should be about relationships, not religion. It begins by the way we welcome and love others.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Julia's last day of kindergarten

My daughter just finished her first year of school and we all survived. As we left the school for the last time this year, her teacher commented on what a sweet spirit she has. Julia is one of the most compassionate people you'll ever meet. She makes picture frames out of attendance cards and announcement sheets and sells them for whatever anyone is willing to give just so she can "give money to the poor." She scrounges up change from around the houst to give to the poor. She wants to sell lemonade this summer to make money for the poor. She wants to have a garage sale to give money to the poor. Mind you, none of this has been my idea. Her tender heart is for others. She cries if she hurts someone else's feelings. When we have lunch with her at school, she doesn't invite her best friend most of the time, instead she looks for the one who is often left out. Her compassion doesn't just end with people, but is for all of God's creatures. She has given money to our local animal shelter and has tried saving even ants on the playground and Travis Elementary.

I don't know what to expect as she grows older. I know there will be bumps in the road. All I know is that I have learned so much from this little 6-year-old.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

The Good News

"But whatever happens to me, you must live a life worthy of the Good News about Christ, as citizens of heaven." - Philippians 1:27

Accepting grace requires our response. Just spend some time reflectin on Jesus' parables in Matthew 13 of the kingdom. The kingdom of God is noth something we build, but it's something we receive or inherit. Like the tiny mustard seed that grows into a large tree, the kingdom grows by God's design and effort, not ours. I'm not completely sure what all this means except to say that I'm beginning to realize that to receive or inherit the kingdom of heaven is to declare my allegiance to its king at the same time. And my allegiance demands that I obey. In other words, I cannot separate my acceptance of God's grace from my acceptance of his mission and his ways in the world. I think that may be what Paul is getting in the passage above. I could be wrong. How many times have I thanked god for his grace while living by my rules rather than his.

The Gospel is about accepting God's invitation into his kingdom, his household, his family. But to do so we declare our total allegiance to him as the head of it and respond by conforming our lives to his mission. Just as the merchant sold all he had to purchase the pearl, we must die to ourselves to enter the kingdom.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Anthony Ervin

I just read a news story about Anthony Ervin, a 2000 Olympic gold-medalist in the 50 m freestyle. He recently auctioned his gold medal on e-bay for $17,100. Living in a small townhouse in San Francisco and driving a 15-year-old automobile the story states that he didn't sell the medal to get a new car or better apartment. Instead, he's giving it all to UNICEF for tsunami relief. "I don't really have nay money or any kind of clout other than the Olympic medal" he said. " I just thought I should give something back."

I think of the woman who gave her two coins. I think of Jesus' story of the sheep and goats. I think of James 1:27 about caring for widows and orphans. Apparently, Anthony Ervin gave more than simply out of his excess. He parted with a something with more than monetary value in order to take care of those who couldn't take care of themselves.

To what extreme are we called to go to care for the poor and others who cannot care for themselves?

How are we to do it?

This news story has got me thinking about my personal responsibility to Jesus' mission in this world and how to carry it out.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Not quite ready

I was doing a sermon prep this weekend. Early on, I had a pretty clear understanding of what I was doing and going to talk about, but as I studied and spent time in prayer I began to realize that this is one of those times when the topic chose me even though I thought I had chosen it. Consequently it grew to be too much for tonight. So, I had to begin apologetically this evening feeling unprepared. I guess that's how sermon series begin. I look forward to pursuing the topic and sharing it with my church family in the near future.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

I did it

Well, I did it. I managed to see a movie on the same weekend it was released. Deana and I may frequent a movie theater 1-2 each year. We were determined to see Star Wars before Sunday so no one would ruin it for us. So, yesterday I asked Deana to get tickets for an early showing. She took me quite literally. We saw it at 9:30 AM. Let me tell you, that's the way to go. It wasn't crowded at all. However, I'm not sure how pathetic it is to have to set your alarm clock to go watch a movie. Anyways, I thought it was worth it.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Kindergarten graduation

There are threshold moments in our lives - moments in which once we cross, we can never go back. That first kiss. Graduating from high school or college, getting married, our first job. These are threshold moments. This morning I will share another of those moments with my family - kindergarten graduation. At 9 AM my daughter, Julia, will receive her diploma for having cmopleted her first year of public school, and it's all but killing me. Where has the time gone? This little blue-eyed toddler is now a little girl. And I'm sure that in 12 years I'll be thinking that this little girl has now become a woman. So, at 9 AM I'll file into a room, watch my daughter walk across a stage to receive her diploma, take a few pictures, maybe even shed a tear or two, and smile knowing that everything is as it should be. Isn't God good.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

For discussion

There is a rather interesting and thought-provoking interview In the May/June 2005 issue of Youthworker Journal with Dr. Christian Smith, one of America's leading sociologists. Currently he is leading a massive study on teenagers and religion called the National Study of Youth and Religion. You can access some of their research and findings at www.youthandreligion.org.

Here are a couple of excerpts from the interview that I think are worth discussion:

"In areas where the adult world has made it a point to get their attention and educate them, where the young people can see that something really matters, like not driving drunk or getting pregnant, teenagers can be quite articulate. But it hit us like a ton of bricks that most religious teenagers aren't being well-educated in the faith or given much practice in articulating their beliefs and why and how they matter"

"One of the most powerful realizations I took from our research is how formative parents are in their teenagers' lives. They often don't realize it, but parents are the most significant influences on their teenage children's faith lives... It seems to me that the more youth ministry can work with parents and be set in a larger context of family and church ministry, the more effective it will be... Good and effective youth programs only distance youth from their families for only limited periods of time, which is entirely sensible and appropriate."

Let me know your observations and thoughts.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Community

"Come take the bread"
Listening to a student share his personal struggles with sin...

Arriving at a concert only to find it has just ended and then going to eat with the family instead...

Taking an hour out of my week to pass out food to the hungry in our community


"Come drink the wine"
Praying with a parent about his teenager

Meeting someone for lunch during the week and talking about the things that make it difficult for us to follow Christ

Unexpectadly receiving financial help to cover medical expenses


"Come share the Lord"
Putting on a child's small T-shirt and modeling it for the boys

Praying with a group of students each week

Making animal sounds while eating animal crackers with other students

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Slip ups

The other day my daughter was trying to talk to me and Deana and said "least but not last." We had to laugh at that, but it reminded me of all the times I've had slip ups, some much more embarrassing than others. I'm notorious for that, so I guess she gets it from me. I once slipped when trying to talk to my in-laws about "stunt kites" but I slipped repeating emphatically several times to Deana's dismay something I'm not sure I want to repeat here. Just use your imagination. She was mortified. Thank goodness I've learned to laugh at myself, because everyone else does.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Senior Sunday

We honored our graduated seniors yesterday morning in worship. As we honored 9 students I couldn't help but think of the big picture. God began a work in this world the first day of creation and has been working ever since to reclaim his own family. So, as all 9 students stood before the church family it reminded me of a family reunion. For in my 5 short years, I have already seen families come and go and I feel the pain of their loss in my heart. As shallow as it might have been, it was great to be reunited with them if only for a short time. Talking with them I was reminded of times spent together at places like Houston Work Camp or Petty John and Kadesh. I was reminded of LTC and huddles. Their stories are part of mine because we all share in God's story of creation and redemption.

Maybe this is just a taste of heaven. We all have individuals who have gone on before us we long to see again. We all known that this life we experience right now isn't as good as it gonna get. We know there's more. And maybe God's heart desperately longs for us to be reunited with him. I think I have a greater appreciation of family reunions now.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Hollywood Presbyterian Church

There is an article in the religion section of this morning's Houston Chronicle highlighting a controversy at Hollywood Presbyterian Church, historically one of the most influential Presbyterian churches in the country. Individuals including Billy Graham and Bill Bright emerged from this congregation. The article details a controversy within the declining church that includes the establishment of an alternative ministry at a warehouse facility called Contemporary Urban Experience. I think you'll find it interesting and it might just hit somewhat close to home. www.chron.com/cs/CDA/ssistory.mpl/religion/3181271

World Vision

"Relgion that is pure is this: to take care of orphans and widows, and to keep one's self from being polluted by the world." - James

"I tell you, whatever you have done, you have dnoe for the least of these." - Jesus, speaking about caring for the poor and lonely.

Check out World Vision's website and try, if you can, to get your mind around the AIDS epidemic. Due to tremendous financial resources and education AIDS has been pretty well kept in check in the U.S. However, it's ravaging the entire continent of Africa and third world countries. UNAIDS estimates that there will be 25 million children orphaned worldwide by 2010 due to AIDS. I want to encourage all of us to consider doing our part in reaching out to people who can't help themselves. A fun, and healthy way, to do so is to join Chris Gonzales' "40 Days of Fat" challenge. Although it began May 1, it's not too late. Follow my link to Fajita's blog and look for "40 Days of Fat" to find out more.

I'm going to go run. The more weight I lose this month, the more I help World Vision.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Living out the gospel

As I continue to work through the book Stormfront studying and considering how to present the gospel to others and what that means for my life I thought I'd share with you the following excerpt. While it is true that the gospel of Jesus Christ does impact lives, that doesn't even come close to presenting a biblical view of the good news of Jesus Christ. The following excerpt touches on this.

"The Gospel is first about God's faithfulness, about God's triumph over death, and about God's purposes for the world that are revealed in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. These biblical patterns distinguish themselves in subtle but important ways from our North American way of speaking about the Gospel. Whereas we tend to speak about the gospel in terms of its impact upon our lives, the Bible tends to speak of the gospel as the revelation of who God is and what God is doing and has done in the world."

As followers of Christ, we cannot only focus on the "benefits" of following Christ. Rather, we must consider the new reality of which we have become partners in under God's reign.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Awe and wonder

I loved to explore when I was a kid. Growing up in Alaska, I would love to walk out in the woods just to see what I could find. I would look for things like moose, squirrels, spruce hen. I would watch and just be in awe. I would wonder what that tangling piece of skin hanging from the moose's neck was. I wanted to know if a big bull moose ever got tired wearing those huge antlers all day long. I would look up at snow-capped mountains in July and wonder how cold it was up there.

But something happend as I grew up. This sense of wonder and questioning was slowly replaced by a sense of apathy. Instead of asking questions and wondering, I'd rather play video games or basketball. Rather than ask questions, I'd prefer to give an answer to others' questions.

But once again, that wonder and awe is coming back. God promises us that when we genuinely seek him, we will find him. When we knock, the door will be open. The more I question and wonder, the more I find this is true. Don't stop asking. Use your mind. It's one of God's greatest gifts to humanity.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Wednesday, May 11

"I liked the idea of loving people just to love them, not to get them to come to church. IF the subject of church came up, I could tell them about Imago, but until then, who cared. So, we started praying every week that God would teach us to live missional lives, to notice people who needed to be loved." - Donald Miller in Blue Like Jazz

What is missional living? It's living with intention; living with purpose. It's taking our everyday routine and subjecting it to God's reign and his priorities. For some of us, that means reorienting our lives from the way we spend our time, to how we spend our money. It's choosing to make it a priority to develop redemptive relationships, not to trick people into coming to church, but loving them genuinely just as Jesus does. Not adding that to our schedule. For me, it means a total re-evaluation of my core values and reordering my entire life around the mission of God in this world.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Tuesday, May 10

Last night, a small group of students met with me to spend some time praying together. I look forward to these times more than any other night. Not because of who meets, although I love spending time with these students, but because there are times when we are willing to let some boundaries down, put down our masks and just be truthful. It's not like Sunday or Wednesdays when we gather with 20 or so people, sing a few songs, have a lesson and pray doing a pretty good job of being polite. Instead, this night is often real and raw. Although small in number on these nights, I believe God brings healing to the lives of those who are there. I believe that when we come together and honestly, humbly seek him and open our lives to one another God does great things. I think we begin to see what community might could look like. I want to challenge us all to learn to put down the masks, allow others so see us as we are love others for who they are.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Sunday, May 8

I feel like a marathon runner on the home stretch with legs like rubber bands and able to hear my own heart beating. We are nearing the end of another school year. Just under 3 weeks left, but so much to do during this time. Is it bad that the teacher is as unmotivated as the students? I have basically ended anything significant in AP biology. They're all seniors and have only 9 days left. We watch movies everyday. I'm going to miss this particular group of students.

I look forward to this week. I look forward to the end of the year and my day of golf with D. I look forward to watching students receive their high school diplomas. What a great time of year.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Saturday, May 7

Remember the scene from the movie A Bug's Life where the fly is being drawn into the bug zapper while his friend yells frantically at him to get away? That is so me. I often feel like the bug drawn to the light of the bug zapper. Why is it that sin seems to creep up on me at the most inopportune times? I'm trying so hard to give everything to Jesus, yet I always see sin at work in my life.

This morning as I was preparing for tomorrow's time with the teenagers I was looking at David and repentence. As I read, meditated and prayed, I was overwhelmed by the fact that I sin. The more I want to be like Jesus, the more sin I see in my life. The more I desire to look like the son, the greater is my realization that I'm not like him. I guess that's what being in the light does - exposes all the nooks and shadows where I hide my sin. The more completely the light illuminates my life, the smaller the shadow. The times I'm least aware of my sins are the times I'm not thinking about or trying to become more like Jesus.

I must confess that wanting to be like Jesus can be a painful desire. Thank God for his loving mercy.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Friday, May 6

Excerpt from Stormfront
"... the gospel has less to do with alleged benefits that might come with believing in God and more with what God plans to do with those who answer Jesus' call to give up all and follow him."

Like a CD set to repeat the same song, these words have been running through my mind since I first read them this morning. How much of my time do I focus on the "benefits" of following Jesus at the expense of considering those things Jesus asks me to do? Would I follow Jesus with all my heart if these "benefits" were accompanied by the struggles Jesus faced -- attempted murder, homelessness, hunger, rejection, imprisonment, destitution, defamation of character, family divisions? What I'm just now beginning to understand in my life is that the benefits of following Christ that I so freely speak about to others are most completely experienced with a total surrender to my Lord and savior. And so, I must ask myself each day (as a dear friend has put it) "What must be crucified in my life today in order to experience life abundantly as Jesus promises?"

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Thursday, May 5, 2005

I'm learning first-hand Jesus' idea of truly loving someone. To truly love someone, you must be willing to love that person expecting absolutely nothing in return. In fact, the love you express may be rejected, or returned with hatred or scorn. That's when it gets really tough to love someone. But that's also when the Holy Spirit gives you the ability to love them. To love someone as Jesus does means that we don't put conditions that love. I pray that we can all learn to love like that.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Pushing past

I'm becoming more aware as I get older of how difficult it is to look past the external behaviors, actions, and words into the heart of a person. I think of the Garsene demoniac that Jesus frees from his illness. The man lived among the tombs. People feared him, maybe even pittied him. Everyone avoided him. Yet Jesus went to him, loved him and healed him. So many times Jesus could push past the outside to the heart. He could ignore what others said and look inside.

So many times I let what I see acted out be the basis of my judgment when that should often be the last thing. I need to push past what I see, read between the lines, listen and love. Lord help me to do that because I'm too lazy.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

A new book I'm reading

I have to say I just ablsolutely love Anne Lamott's book Traveling Mercies. She writes a memoire that is real and raw. She makes no apologies for her life as she communicates so clearly how God has drawn her into a relationship with himself. It's straightforward, relevant and honest. Maybe we could learn a thing or two from her. Her passion is itense and her faith so real. Her story is certainly God's story. Her life is a testimony of the power of the gospel.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Pictures of Jesus

There are many different perceptions of Jesus. For example, some consider him a good moral teacher, but nothing else. Others say he did indeed do miracles, but was not divine. Art and literature have portryed him differently throughout history. I would say that your perception of who Jeus is impacts the way you live. Also, we project an image of who Jesus is for others by the way we live and relate to him as well. I'm interested in looking at all the different ways Jesus is portrayed in our culture. Are there any examples that you can think of?