A Family Challenge

Last night our church had a chili cook off. After the tasting, voting, and feasting there was a brief program featuring some recent and upcoming mission projects. I was asked to talk a little bit about my trip to Ukraine last summer. It was one of the most incredible experiences of my life.

It got me thinking. Facilitating short term mission experiences could very well be the best thing the institutional church can do. Many churches have connections and contacts literally around the world. With a few phone calls and emails, you could be on your way to a transformational week.

I participated in one to Belize as a high school senior. As a youth pastor I led trips to Appalachia, urban centers, and the Navajo reservation in Arizona. While we did a bit of good in each project, God did much more in the lives of the participants. What I regret these days is I never organized one for my family. Hopefully we can correct that in the next few years.

The top three reasons I hear for not going are;

  1. I don’t have enough money to go
  2. I don’t have the time to go
  3. I’m afraid of the risk, we might not be safe

I’d like to push back on those.

Money – I’ve found that most of us have enough money for what we really want. It may take some organization. It will require some sacrifice. But budgeting, fundraising, and some miracles along the way are not unheard of. If you don’t believe me I’ll give you my friend Kathleen’s email address. She saved, earned and raised enough money to participate in the World Race. Kathleen will be serving in 11 different countries in 11 months this year.

Time – Over the years we’ve found plenty of time for sports camps, travel teams and vacations that were all about us. Just like money, we make time for the things we think are important. And speaking of “important,” some folks think they are so important, so irreplaceable that they don’t even use all the vacation time they’re awarded. Let me assure you: your employer and/or your business can function just fine without you for five days. A week serving others is the best investment of time you can make.

Risk – While I certainly wouldn’t take this issue lightly – it should not be a hinderance in doing something outside our sphere of comfort. After all, we are a people of faith, right? Christians in the US forget that we are some of the few in the history of Christianity where risk isn’t our daily companion. Lots of kids drop out of church because their bored. Many men hate church because it has become so feminized. Well, guys here’s a chance to man up and take your kids on a life changing adventure.

Would you consider it? There are tons of ways to serve and many places in need…for every budget, time available and family stress level. If you need any more ideas on how to get started, feel free to get back with me.

 

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Romance is easy…Love is hard

Romance is defined as, “love, especially when sentimental or idealized.” It involves “the feeling of excitement and mystery associated with love.”

Romance is the beginning, the starting point. I’m just going to say it: Romance is easy. I’m not saying that romance is not meaningful or important or fun. Who doesn’t enjoy simple gifts given spontaneously, dates planned with military strategy, notes written on napkins, and random texts saying “thinking of you :)” It’s easy because it lives in the land of the ideal where the sun is always shining and everyone lives happily ever after.

On the other hand, love is hard. To say that is not an indictment on the lover or the beloved. True love is anchored in reality. The reality of who I am and who you are. The reality of the situation you find yourself. The reality of embracing weaknesses as well as the strengths of the other. The reality of your own shortcomings. The reality of how life up to this very moment has influenced the way you function in relationships. The reality of risk, and possible sickness, failure and rejection. The reality that in spite of all the previously stated, I’m going to put your needs above mine.

 

 

  • A number of years ago I was asked if I would help a couple celebrate their 25th anniversary by renewing their vows. “Of course,” I told my friend and she began making the arrangements. As she told me more about the couple, I realized this event would be different. It was not about romance but rather all about love. Only a month or so before their anniversary the wife, who was not yet 50 years old, had a massive stroke. The vow renewal would take place in the common area of the nursing home where the wife now lived. The day came. The room was decorated. The guests had arrived. The groom and their sons stood on my right. The daughter and daughters-in-law were on my left. And the bride was pushed slowly down the center isle in her hospital bed. They joined hands and began to repeat their vows. His were pushed out through a torrent of tears. Hers were garbled by paralysis. There were no dry eyes because this was not sentimentality or romance. What we were witnessing was love…love willingly embraced though difficult to live into.

I will never forget that day or those people. Romance is easy…Love is hard.

The following is Eugene Peterson’s translation of the apostle Paul’s inspired treatise on love:

If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate. If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, “Jump,” and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing. If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love. Love never gives up. Love cares more for others than for self. Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have. Love doesn’t strut, Doesn’t have a swelled head, Doesn’t force itself on others, Isn’t always “me first,” Doesn’t fly off the handle, Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others, Doesn’t revel when others grovel, Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth, Puts up with anything, Trusts God always, Always looks for the best, Never looks back, But keeps going to the end. Love never dies. (1 Cor. 13, The Message)

I’m From Flint

I’m from Flint. I didn’t grow up inside the city limits nor do I live within them today, but I’m  still from here.

We are a place with horrible roads and people with great hearts. We are proud of our athletes who have performed on the highest stages in sports; Olympics, World Series, and Super Bowls. We enjoy our local fare; coney islands, Halo Burger, Faygo and Koegel’s. We have gems that people take for granted; The Whiting, Flint Institute of Arts, and the Flint Farmer’s Market. We come from hardy stock. Only one other community in the nation has had more people vacate it than Flint – and that is New Orleans. We in Flint live in the wake of a 25 year long hurricane.

Unfortunately we are also a place of division.

Racially: Black and white.

Economically: Well off and poverty stricken.

Politically: Labor and management.

All division is destructive but it is the latter that I want to focus on today. In Flint, the labor/management struggle isn’t just in the automotive world…it’s everywhere. I hear it surface in conversations at the coffee shop. I see the chasms it creates in health care circles. It even can be seen in my area of vocation: the church.

I’ve experienced most of the scenarios.

Leadership teams that see the pastoral staff as labor who work for them. They raise questions like, “How many hours did you work this week? Why isn’t the church growing faster? What is your plan to change things?”

Church boards that see the staff as management and therefore they naturally oppose them. They make statements like, “You are the experts. That’s what you get paid for. Maybe you don’t have what it takes to take us to the next level.” (whatever that means)

Pastors that see the laity as labor and they manipulate them. They bring language like,  “Why aren’t you more committed? You really need to attend this, do this, and be a part of this.”

I understand the church has problems because the church has people; pastors, leaders, and laity. We are all guilty of using way more “you” language than “we” language. If there is one place where the chasm between labor and management is bridged, it should be the church…whether in Flint, Fargo, or France.

I’m not sure where this hits you. Maybe it’s the reason you don’t go to church. Maybe you’re entrenched in a battle over church music or furniture. Maybe you’ve never even thought of it before. So let me suggest using “we” and “us” more often. Let’s remember that we serve Him and with each other. And finally, I’ll close with something written by someone much wiser than me.

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.(the Apostle Paul – Galatians 3:28 NKJV)

 

Eye Exam

I’m reading Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom, by John O’Donohue. He writes of his tradition’s holistic understanding of Christianity. Here are a few things I highlighted this morning.

  • “When you really look deeply at something, it becomes part of you. This is one of the sinister aspects of television. People are constantly looking at empty and false images; these impoverished images are filling up the inner world of the heart.”
  • “Many of us have made our world so familiar that we do not see it anymore. An interesting question to ask yourself at night is, What did I really see this day?”
  • “To the fearful eye, all is threatening.”
  • “To the greedy eye, everything can be possessed.”
  • “To the judgmental eye, everything is closed in definitive frames.”
  • “To the resentful eye, everything is begrudged.”
  • “To the indifferent eye, nothing calls or awakens.”
  • “To the inferior eye, everyone else is greater.”
  • “To the loving eye, everything is real. This art of love is neither sentimental nor naive. Such love is the greatest criterion of truth, celebration, and reality. The loving eye can even coax pain, hurt, and violence toward transfiguration and renewal.”

This author is feeling no need to offer further insight other than I hope my eyes will cease to be fearful, greedy, judgmental, resentful, indifferent and inferior.

 

Stupid but Solid

Today I had to travel a road I hadn’t been on in quite a while. It took me past the former home of a relative and instantly I was transported back to one of the scariest scenes of my adult life. It was 20 years ago on a January day about like today. Cold. Snowy. Sunny. Still.

Tyler, my oldest was about 4. He and I decided to find the sledding hill we heard was near his grandparents’ house. We hiked across the back field and through a small patch of woods finding ourselves on the crest of a hill. A four foot wide path of packed white snow cut its way through the golden rods until it emptied on the lake below. I was grinning as much as he was.

I readied the blue plastic sled and helped him get situated. Tyler held the rope like the reigns of a thoroughbred and with just a nudge he was off. It was ideal. He sped straight down the path and out on the snow-covered lake. But when he got out of his little blue boat his feet went through the ice. I tried not to panic hoping he would stay calm but inside I was completely freaking out. I sprinted down the hill and reached the lake. The ice held my first few steps but then I began to break through…ka-chunk, ka-chunk, ka-chunk…plowing my way toward my boy who was standing completely still and afraid.

About a third of the way to him, I realized I wasn’t falling all the way in. We were only breaking through a few inches. The closer I got the slower I moved and the more relaxed I became, trying to embody the fact that he would be ok. There was a thick layer of firm ice below the newer weaker surface. After a big hug I loaded him back onto the sled and pulled him to the solid ground at the base of the hill.

When I drove past that house, looked across that field and saw the clump of woods it all came back. I thought I was going to lose my son that day because I made some foolish assumptions. But I also remembered my terror only gave way to indescribable relief when I realized there was something solid beneath what I believed to be safe…something solid below the surface.

 

 

The more things change the more they stay the same

This past weekend was in Greenville, IL. to speak at a youth retreat. After arriving and helping my friend Matt get things situated I reflected on the camps and retreats I’ve been a part of over the years. It came to mind that my first camp speaking gig was almost 25 years ago and I was only 24 years old. (what were they thinking!)

Throughout the weekend I tried to pay attention…making mental notes about the similarities and differences of camps and campers over the years. Would you believe I think more things have stayed the same than have changed?

I only noticed a couple differences. The first was worship. When I started speaking to groups of students we didn’t worship well. Either we had a group in to do it for us or we just plain skipped it, subbing in a big game or get to know you activity. Thankfully we’ve gotten a better handle on worship. It was a privilege to work with my good friend Jake Randall this weekend. He is one of the best in the biz, helping crowds of any age become aware that they are in the presence of God.

The other difference was technology. Our retreat video was entirely shot and edited on an iPhone. When I started the internet wasn’t around. Therefore there were no youtube clips available, no Facebook to stay connected with new friends, not even a video projector back in the day. Kids and adults are so wired now which highlights the need for us to “retreat” periodically.

What I found joy in was how many things are still the same as they were at the 1986 North Florida camp where I started. Students love their friends and can have fun anywhere. Sleep is overrated. There are still boy-crazy girls and girl-crazy boys. There are still awkward kids looking for someone to tell them they’re ok. (btw – most of them feel awkward and need reassurance, some just hide it better than others) Campground coffee is still bad, beds are still lumpy, and drama still happens.

But the fact still stands that some of the best people on earth invest countless hours working with youth. Some get paid to but most don’t. They do it because they love students. They do it because they believe…attending a play, coaching a team, teaching a class, or throwing parties when you only have popcorn and water…will make a difference. They believe (like the Vineyard says) “Small things done in great love can change the world.”

It made me think of a few people in my teenage years that did lots of small things with great love. Thanks Jill, Dave, and Doug. The impact of your influence has rippled from coast to coast for over 25 years.

PS – Most kids are off school today. Take one out for lunch. Ask them how they’re doing…how they’re really doing. Look them in the eye. Tell them how dorky you were. It is the best investment you can make.

What makes a community work

I’m spending part of my morning today at the repair shop.
Golden Boy had a bad hiccup on Sunday. Since then I’ve borrowed
cars and limped around town. Fortunately I have some good friends
who have been more than willing to help. I will just tell you, I
know very little about cars. My dad did and he was willing to teach
me but I had more important things to do at the time. It’s days
like these that I wish I would have taken time to squeeze under the
hood with him. So when something breaks I take it to Oliver’s
Garage. It’s a mom and pop place. That phrase puts an image in your
head, doesn’t it? A wise & jovial old mechanic in the
garage and his sweet & saintly wife working the front desk.
Almost, but here the mom and pop are barely in their 30’s, which
provided a wonderful surprise on my first visit. I’ve thought a lot
lately about what makes a community work. I don’t think it’s just a
political or economic issue. A community works when people are free
to be who they are. Kids on jungle gyms, playing sports and taking
piano lessons…and the people who watch over, coach and teach
them. Teenagers figuring out who they are and being
squirrelly…and the people love and worry about them. Young adults
pursuing their vocations. Middle agers sorting through their
memories and navigating their changing roles. Older folks sharing
their wisdom and experience. I wonder if a lack of freedom is why
some communities of faith struggle. We tend to be more prone to
control and want conformity rather than turning people loose to be
who they’ve been created to be. What do you think?

What do you do with a box of memories?

Between the holidays I received a package. It smelled like basement and looked like it had survived a lifetime of moves. The tape on top no longer held…I know it’s probably because of age but I also know parcels like this are charged with emotion struggling to break free.

Inside were pictures and mementos from years gone by; varsity letters, family photos, play programs, newspaper articles, and wedding pictures. As you can imagine, some items brought wide smiles while others stirred sadness. As I made my way toward the bottom I wondered, “What do you do with a box of memories?”

My first instinct was simple: sort them into two piles mentally labelled “Keep” and “Pitch.” The keepers would be the ones that preserved happy times and good thoughts. The castoffs would be pictures that brought back bad memories and had people in them that I don’t like anymore.

As I viewed the photos and read the articles and pondered the keepsakes I discovered it’s not that simple. Each artifact was attached to something or someone I loved and loved me. Regardless of our geographical or relational proximity today, each person represented in that box has helped shape me into who I am.

Too often I (we) create time capsules that are beyond inaccurate…they are fictitious. Whether on FaceBook, in leather journals, or in old cardboard boxes we pitch the items that aren’t pleasant. We don’t want to acknowledge or remember them. The result: In our attempts to find a happy place we rob ourselves of experiencing the depth and beauty that can only come from weathering harsh forces. My favorite place on earth was shaped by sun, wind, rain, and floods. Yet my temptation is to do everything I can to avoid the things that have power to bring out the real beauty that lies beneath the surface in me.

As my piles began to merge into one it was hard to avoid what God seemed to be saying to me, “What do you do with a box of memories? Be grateful for all of them. Let me help you embrace it all.”