Tuesday, November 29, 2005


Two sides of the family. Two major travel holidays. Celebration should be simple math. Travel to one set of grandparents for one holiday. Travel to second set of grandparents for the second holiday. Rotate holidays annually. This is simple math.

In reality the Holidays require higher math celebration. They are multi-purpose. We traveled early to my parents for Thanksgiving because we needed to return before the weekend. While at my folks, we celebrated Thanksgiving in the morning, Christmas that night, my mother'’s birthday on Friday and threw in an early present for our twelfth wedding anniversary. The answer to the formula is the multi-holiday "AnaBirthMasGiving." Hurrah! The only thing I left out is Festivus.

During this time of year, I anticipate "the coming." More than any American holiday real or imagined, each day becomes a holy-day welcoming "the coming."” God took skin and bones and turned it into something beautiful - something God like. The human being reflects God's image. While humans were the culmination of an amazing creation, God out did himself by taking up the same skin and bones as his own coat. God became human.

The result is worth celebrating. God did not remain a baby in the straw. God became a dead man on a cross. God again stood alive on the tombstone of his grave. The results of the journey divinity to baby to man to death to life are difficult to reduce. On one hand, God was never the same because he entered our suffering and death and made it holy. On the other hand, humanity could never be the same because God made us holy.

Celebrate that God has come to earth, that God has come to life again and that God will come again in victory. Why? Because God loves you. God gives you life. God gives you future.

Monday, November 14, 2005

In Flight Romance

If something happens high above the earth . . . does it really matter? After all if you are suspended in space and time, then why not suspend morality. You hear and experience stories about what people do and say in the air or in space. Take a trip, go somewhere exotic and become a different person.

She smiled warmly and sat down. Called her boyfriend, said "I love you. Good-bye." He sits down next to her in the middle seat. Cute young woman, unmarried and on her way to do five days of training. Strong tanned guy with wry smile, a captivating conversant and in television. She is a visitor. He is in his hometown. A three-hour in-flight conversation ensues. The five-day potential romance has only begun with this chat and an exchange of phone numbers. That phone call before the plane took off was placed by a different person long forgotten - or at least forgotten in flight.

~ ~ ~

A line of three young laughing women come down the aisle. He was sitting in her seat. The accident allows for a laugh and a start to a conversation. The aisle does little separate their conversation and obvious interest. She is the aggressor sharing lewd comments to go on T-shirts. He takes the bait. Three hours of drinking the $5 variety of "tiny wine" make the aisle seem more and more narrow. They lean across the aisle and exchange some unknown suggestive comments. Her response, "Well, I would like that, but my friends here are fairly Christian."

~ ~ ~

If it happens in the air, then is it an affair of any significance? Or are the words and the actions those of a different person? The names may be forgotten in a blur of faces that cannot be erased.

Is it possible to become a different person for a time and then after a round-trip landing resume your identity? People do it all the time. Or does one upon landing become forever a different person? A person who might be even "fairly Christian." If we cannot forget, and our beloved is none the wiser, then maybe God has forgotten.

But maybe, just maybe God has in mind a different kind of Christian who is the same in the air as they are here on the ground.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Final Day

Five days ago the skies were split open for me to fly through. Crossing the country, I descended through the smog into a darkened city of angels. It feels surreal that a few square palm tree lined city blocks of downtown Pasadena could form a spiritual oasis. When I am here, a day can seem a lifetime.

There are moments in life when time appears to have stopped, opening us to new perspectives of old things. These pause moments come with variety: a child's laughter, an insightful phrase, in worship or in remembering life at the time of death. In these moments it seems as if you have traveled far away to a special place.

This morning I am thankful to my wife and children for letting me disappear for a few days. I am grateful to have elders who provide me space and time and support to grow. And once again, I am reminded that it is good to have a group of believers to whom I can come home.

There is little more real or more important than the routine of our lives. Our family, our work, our home town and our community of faith is the place of our most important work. Your closest circle of friends and community is the arena in which you change the world. Our day-to-day routine is enhanced when we stand with spiritual giants to speak and listen to them speak of what they see on the horizon. These moments make being grounded have a new perspective and revitalized mission.

Here is a passage to keep you moving and it is inscribed in the front of Vincent Donovan's book:

But I am still running,
trying to capture
that by which
I have been captured.

- Paul (in his letter to the Philippians 3:12)

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Thursday Night Reading

This week, I have been reading a book Rediscovering Christianity” by Vincent Donovan. What intrigued me about this book is its setting in Tanzania. Bob Bentley and I have talked about Donovan before. It is the story of Donovan taking the essence of the gospel to the Masai people of Africa, a pagan untouched society. It is a beautiful story of his mission to bring nothing but the gospel to a culture in the language and thought of that culture. The book is twenty-five years old, yet I believe it has amazing insights and implications for believers in America today who are facing a larger and larger America that does not believe or sometimes even know about Jesus. It is a very well worthwhile read.

If you are up for a challenge and want to read another story (of sorts) about American Christianity, I suggest you read New Kind of Christian.” It is a narrative about a man trying to have faith in a time and life situation that made it very difficult to believe. If you are feeling the shifts in the world and the world and want to listen to a fellow believer on that journey, then read this book from Brian McLaren.

I Need Good News

Could you use some good news? Is your life more filled with bad news sticky notes than good news. We were given an assignment to explain the gospel to an inquiring friend in only a few minutes. Here was my take on good news. I would add that it is the best news on the planet!

The gospel is a slippery term because everyone assumes they know its many contents. It is treated like box into which people try to shove a library.

So, here goes. The gospel is the good news story of what God does for humans that humans cannot do for themselves. This good news has been around since the beginning of time. God created us (people) as a reflection of his image. To look at a human being is like looking in the mirror of God's love. Most people do not even realize they are part of this story - the gift of living to reflect God.

The cliff notes version of this story of can be found from John’s (one of Jesus’ friends) experience of Jesus. We were loved and so we love (1 John 4:19). God love humans first. God's love enables me to love.

Yet good news existed long before Jesus’ arrival in the world. Isaiah speaks about good news as God creating peace, healing and freedom from oppression (Isaiah 52 & 61).

People like me, who are caught up in this story, declare God. We are to show how God rules in love. That God’s invisible reign has been made visible in Jesus (Mark 1:1). That by God’s Spirit (Acts 2) we make the invisible God visible. In essence, we were loved by God and so we give our lives in love to others.

Maybe you could use some good news today. Does this work for you?

Seeking Mystery

The week is quickly drawing to a close. Today I look back amazed at the people God brings into our lives. A group of diverse ministers and pastors have come together from all over the world for the purpose of learning about Christ and sharing his life in ministry. We have talked about issues, explained our Christian traditions, eaten together, disagreed and learned from one another. We have for this week become a community of God’s people seeking the mystery of God.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Prayer of Betrayal

Brian shared an interesting explanation of Matthew 5:48 from the sermon Jesus preached on the mountain. It has instructions for when we are slapped on the right cheek (insulted, hurt, degraded), which would be a slap from a superior to an inferior. We are to turn our left cheek to them and allow a second blow. This blow would be like a blow from an equal. Obviously, these are strange words in any culture. We do not enjoy allowing others to harm us. But, Brian encouraged us in the way of Jesus to take an approach of love. A way of knowing or living in the world that is explained only by love.

I had to ask a question. How is Brian able to embody this way of love in the midst of criticism and attack? He quickly responded that he has been praying a prayer since January of this year. It is a prayer written By Bishop Nikolai Velimirovic. Velimiroc was a Serbian bishop who spoke out against Nazism. In a private meeting with his fellow bishops he expressed that he did not agree with the Nazis. Shortly, he was arrested, and taken to Dachau prison. That meant that one of his friends, his fellow bishops betrayed him. And now here is the prayer that Brian has been praying – the prayer written by Nikolai Velimirovic.

Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them. Enemies have driven me into your embrace more than friends have. Friends have bound me to earth; enemies have loosed me from earth and have demolished all my aspirations in the world.

Enemies have made me a stranger in worldly realms and an extraneous inhabitant of the world.

Just as a hunted animal finds safer shelter than an unhunted animal does, so have I, persecuted by enemies, found the safest sanctuary, having ensconced myself beneath Your tabernacle, where neither friends nor enemies can slay my soul.

Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless and do not curse them.

They, rather than I, have confessed my sins before the world. They have punished me, whenever I have hesitated to punish myself. They have tormented me, whenever I have tried to flee torments. They have scolded me, whenever I have flattered myself. They have spat upon me, whenever I have filled myself with arrogance. Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them.

Whenever I have made myself wise, they have called me foolish. Whenever I have made myself mighty, they have mocked me as though I were a [fly].

Whenever I have wanted to lead people, they have shoved me into the background.

Whenever I have rushed to enrich myself, they have prevented me with an iron hand.

Whenever I thought that I would sleep peacefully, they have wakened me from sleep.

Whenever I have tried to build a home for a long and tranquil life, they have demolished it and driven me out.

Truly, enemies have cut me loose from the world and have stretched out my hands to the hem of your garment.

Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them.

Bless them and multiply them; multiply them and make them even more bitterly against me:

So that my fleeing will have no return; So that all my hope in men may be scattered like cobwebs; So that absolute serenity may begin to reign in my soul; So that my heart may become the grave of my two evil twins: arrogance and anger;

So that I might amass all my treasure in heaven; Ah, so that I may for once be freed from self-deception, which has entangled me in the dreadful web of illusory life.

Enemies have taught me to know what hardly anyone knows, that a person has no enemies in the world except himself. One hates his enemies only when he fails to realize that they are not enemies, but cruel friends.

It is truly difficult for me to say who has done me more good and who has done me more evil in the world: friends or enemies. Therefore bless, O Lord, both my friends and my enemies. A slave curses enemies, for he does not understand. But a son blesses them, for he understands.

For a son knows that his enemies cannot touch his life. Therefore he freely steps among them and prays to God for them. Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them.

Monday, November 07, 2005

A Downer

Today began with disappointing news . . . Brian McLaren would not be arriving until Tuesday evening. This news was added to the bad news we received a few months ago that the class would be one week instead of two weeks. I enjoy learning and so I am always disappointed when the learning experience lacks the person (professor) from whom you want to learn.

At this point, I needed to be reminded that learning is more than the teacher. These courses require thousands of pages of pre-reading before you begin class. I spend time reflecting on the reading and interacting with the concepts of the books in the form of short response papers. The learning experience also involves the students. Amazingly, the students come from incredibly diverse backgrounds. The cross-section of this class includes a pastor from Hong Kong, a missionary from Viet Nam, church planters, para-church ministry leader and ministers of all different function. Our ages, locations and ethnicities are diverse. Students can make the learning experience better.

Fuller professor Eddie Gibbs saved the day for me. He came to speak about his new book "“Emerging Churches," which researched churches that are developing in this postmodern age. He strongly emphasized that America is becoming much more secular. The West coast is most secular followed by the North West. Christianity is loosing ground in most every American denomination and we are mirroring the decline of Europe.

Maybe his most thought-provoking comments were to describe a Christendom mentality church or most good churches in America. These churches depend upon invitation and the transfer of membership. It is important to be welcoming. They claim to be "seeker sensitive" but faith seekers are in the minority, because it is the invitation of seekers to come on our terms. Twenty percent of the membership is needed as volunteers to keep the work of the church going (maintaining insider ministries). These churches construct buildings rather than people.

Wow, churches that construct buildings rather than people. There is nothing wrong with building buildings or being welcoming. Actually, the are obvious results of people on task. These are not problem until they become the fixed focus. Maintaining a fixed idea of church and believing it "works" in all ages may be the problem. I wonder what a church would look like that focused on birthing people? What would change? What would become important? I wonder what a church would be busy doing if it realized that it existed for the good of the world and to be a blessing to the world. I wonder what the church would look like if it used its 20% core and its ministers to prepare the other 80% to go into the world?

Well, I think it is important to dream and think and reflect. Maybe it helps you to think and talk, too. I realize that I have the benefit of doing the readings, sitting in class, wrestling with these issues and all that you get is a few words here. Yet it is still good to think . . . thanks for letting me think out loud.

Sunday, November 06, 2005


Plane rides are always similar in their formality, but unique in the mosaic of people assembled. One of the passengers in first class was a star from the TV sitcom "Everybody Loves Raymond."” I cannot think of this name, but he plays the part of Robert's father-in-law, a very conservative Christian.

I filled like an ant through the narrow aisle. For this ride, I was placed at the back of the plane next to the engine (the perks of a free ticket with flier miles).

My row of three seats stayed empty and I hoped to have some extra room. Clicking the overhead light, it would not turn on. I had a few hundred pages left to read for the course. It was night. I needed the light! The flight attendant's solution was to shrug her shoulders. I started using the light in the vacant seat next to me. Eventually, two singles one male and one female sat next to me. Thankfully, they talked for the entire flight, hovered towards one another and eventually exchanged phone numbers. I was able to lean in toward the middle seat and share the light from the middle seat since they were hovered toward one another.

I arrived in Southern California at 8:00 p.m. This week I am taking a class with Brian McLaren and Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California. McLaren is a noted evangelical speaker, pastor and author of a number books (A New Kind of Christian, More Ready than You Realize). I began coming out to Fuller about once a year beginning in 2001. I am working toward a Doctorate Degree in Ministry. My course work has emphasized ministry, spirituality, postmodernity and mission. I have learned at the feet of some great professors: Terry Walling, Dallas Willard, Richard Peace and now Brian McLaren. I will do my best to share bits and pieces of my experience.

Once on the ground, I made a quick call to Donna. I was sad to be learn about Mary Tom Price passing away in her sleep. She is a sweet gentle soul, who was always there with a hug and a word of encouragement. We will miss seeing her life continue here, yet we can rejoice that her life moves on. Death is not much different from a plane ride. You get on in one location and you get off in another. The only differences: it is a one-way ticket to infinity and there is no luggage. All you take and all you leave are the things that you have done and most importantly the person you have become. Remember you are becoming the person you will be for all eternity.

Live God'’s story of 1 John 4:19