March 2008


Yesterday at work one of my employees casually commented about God not liking her very much right then, and that He was punishing her. She laughed a little after she said it and during her laughter I commented that I was quite certain that God liked her, and the current issues with her son and the other difficulties she’s dealing have nothing to do with God punishing her. “That’s not who God is,” I told her. To which she quickly said, “Oh He’s punishing me alright.”

I left the room wondering why she has such a distorted view of such a loving God. My understanding of God is so different from hers, and it’s a shame, no it’s more of a tragedy for anyone to see God through such a distorted lens. Viewing God in such a skewed fashion is like seeing Him upside down.

God is God. God is love. God is merciful and kind. God is truth. Life happens. Good stuff, bad stuff. In between stuff. God is neither a cosmic killjoy or a genie in a bottle. God is God!

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Being a dad can be the most rewarding thing in the world. There are those times when your heart is so full you don’t think it will hold anymore. This past weekend I had such a time. Although my fiftieth birthday is still a few days away we celebrated over the weekend because our three out-of-town kids were here over their Spring Break. We had a really wonderful dinner at home and retold some funny stories from the kids’ childhood. It was a lot of fun. After dinner our kids brought out some birthday gifts. Jacque (my wife) had told them to be creative, very personal and to not spend much money.

Jessica, our oldest gave me a beautiful scrap book that she had loaded up with stories from her life. On each page she captured a different phase of our life together. Some of the memories were fun and some even a little painful. Each of them express our lives together as father and daughter. Among many other things she said, “I would not be the person I am today without you.” In the back of the book she had written out the words to the song, I Love You, Lord. It’s a song I used to sing to her at bedtime when she was a little girl, and then when she got married I quoted it within the ceremony. It has always been a special song for the two of us. At the bottom of that back page was an envelope and inside was a CD. She and our son Ryan had recorded their own arrangement of the song the night before. Listening to it is just one of those moments for me. It will never get old — go ahead and listen.

Ryan, our fun loving, non-sentimental son (the one who engineered the recording of I Love You Lord, and played drums, keyboards and who knows what else) gave me a card and inside he had written words that I will cherish the rest of my life. While I’m unwilling to share all of them with the world I will proudly say that according to him, I am his hero and inspiration — it doesn’t get any better than that. Along with the card he gave me an N scale, toy train caboose to keep on my desk. He’s always loved trains, and he and I have had some great model train memories over the years. The caboose will remind me of him every time I see it.

My baby girl Aimee made me a beautiful card and mounted it in a floating frame. The card says,

Holds you when you cry, scolds you when you break the rules, shines with pride when you succeed, and has faith in you even when you fail. I love you. Happy 50th.

It summarizes what she knows about me. It will find a special place on my office wall.

Jacque and I are very blessed and proud parents. We’ve got three great kids of our own and two of them have married great kids. Throughout our adult lives people have asked us how we’ve raised such great kids, and while I think the reasons go far beyond this simplistic answer I usually say something like, we spent lots of time together. Much of it around the dinner table sharing the highlights (and sometimes lowlights) from our day, laughing and occasionally crying.

I could keep writing but there’s really no point. God has blessed us and I’m thankful. Turning fifty couldn’t be any better than this

I grew up in a very non-liturgical church. I hate to put this in writing but in our church most liturgy was more likely viewed as mindless repetition. Reflecting back I now understand it was a matter of ignorance more than preference. We had a Good Friday service a few of my growing up years but many times we went from Easter to Palm Sunday with no focus on the passion of Christ. I never heard the term Maundy Thursday until I was an adult.

In more recent history I have come to appreciate much of what I missed during my growing up years. One of those is Maundy Thursday and the focus it provides. In my reading this morning I ran across this short hymn sometimes sung on Maundy Thursday in Eastern Orthodox services. I offer it here for reflection.

Of Thy Mystical Supper, O Son of God, accept me today as a communicant; for I will not speak of Thy Mystery to Thine enemies, neither like Judas will I give Thee a kiss. But like the Thief will I confess Thee: Remember me, O Lord, in Thy Kingdom.

Have you ever been so shocked by something that you were practically frozen in place and didn’t know what to say. Yesterday after I got home from work Jacque and I were watching the news and catching up on the day when we heard the front door open. That seemed very odd because no one just walks into our house but our kids who live a few miles away and they nearly always call before they drop by. But sure enough when I turned to see who it was there was Jessica. I still didn’t think too much of it, although I wondered why she’d stopped by. Then the, Oops I Crapped My Pants moment: behind Jessica was Aimee, then Ryan and then Claire. All of them standing there with wide grins on their faces, having just flown in from Idaho to surprise Dad.

I was stunned and pretty much totally speechless because I was so shocked. I was full of questions that wouldn’t come out and I couldn’t put all of the pieces together. I was suddenly feeling older than the fifty years they’d come home to celebrate. After a long round of hugs, followed by more stunned silence I figured out my wife Jacque was in on the whole thing. In fact, she’d been planning it since before Christmas. I had no idea any of this was happening. Many other people knee but not me. In fact, most of the people I work with knew and they were able to keep quiet. Not a word, not a even a twitter!

As I went to bed last night I realized how blessed I was to have a wife who would plan such a great surprise — I could not have a better wife than Jacque. I also realized that I had five really amazing kids that I was very proud of and they were all with me to celebrate a milestone in life. Then I remembered Ryan and Claire were down the hallway in Ryan’s old bedroom, sleeping together under my roof for the first time since they got married in December, and Oops, I Crapped My Pants all over again! 

Welcome Home Kids — I love you!

I went to church on a recent Sunday and discovered that on Easter we were going to be a different church than we are on every other Sunday of the year. A church that normally has two different services (in reality they’re not that different from one another) at 9:30 and 11:00 is going to have identical services at 9:00 and 11:00. I’m sure their reasoning was along the lines of it being Easter and wanting to do something special, accommodate the crowds, etc. I understand that, but for me that’s only part of the problem. 

Easter is one of those days when a lot of people are going to make their twice yearly trek to church, so the church leaders, being the marketing geniuses they are tend to think they should do something special on that day. After all, if the show’s good enough maybe these twice-yearly attenders (Chreasters) will become regulars. Here’s the problem with that line of thinking.

When you decide to pull out all the stops and put on a big show, your Easter guests aren’t getting a true representation of who you are. They might be getting what you wish you were, or what you want them to think you are, or even you on steroids, but it’s not a true picture. For those who still don’t see the problem, what happens if they come back the next week?

For starters, some of them will show up at 9:00 for the 9:30 service since that’s the time they came on Easter. Those who come on time may not feel the same buzz in the air when they enter the building as they did the week before.  Once the service starts there’s a good chance they’ll feel it; the Easter switch. The church they attended on Easter and the church they’re in now are two different churches. Sure it’s the same building, some of the same people but it’s a totally different service. They’ve been duped!

Just because it’s Easter and you may attract a bigger crowd please don’t be different than any other Sunday. Sure you should celebrate the risen Christ. Go ahead and make it a Sunday to remember. But why is that different from the other Sundays of the year? Be true to who you are. This isn’t a contest, it’s Easter!

Not long ago I was raised the question, Is God’s love for us separate from His forgiveness? The simple answer for me is the two are distinct yet you can’t have one without the other. When I was much younger I read a book entitled, Your God Is Too Small. The basic premise of this book is our tendency to frame our understanding of God in totally human terms, because that’s all we know. To a point that’s good but it becomes a problem when our human terms are no longer broad enough to handle God. We can’t fathom the depth of His love because in human terms we run out of understanding before we get to the limits of His love. 

When I was young I was taught that Christ died for my sins and that I was to receive God’s forgiveness, live a Christlike life and then spend eternity in heaven when I died. However, if I chose to turn away from God then I was no longer accepting His forgiveness and would spend eternity in hell. I know some of you reading this are not understanding the problem right now. Here’s my basic problem with this: I believe it goes against God’s character of love and it diminishes the power of the cross of Christ.

I was recently having a conversation with someone and as I shared this with her she said, “so what you’re saying is that there’s no punishment for your sin.” To which I responded, “there has been punishment, and that punishment was received once and for all by Christ on the cross.” Admittedly this line of thinking goes against our human sense of fairness and justice. However, for me to consider the possibility of diminishing the power of the cross and Christ’s forgiveness by saying I can undo His forgiveness seems like the most arrogant position I could possibly take. In addition, it puts us in a position of jumping through hoops to earn love and forgiveness. Even reducing this to human terms it’s hard to imagine a loving father doing something like that to His children.

So, where does this leave us? It leaves us forgiven. It leaves us at a point of not having to do anything to earn God’s love or forgiveness. It leaves us in a state of freedom. It leaves us as the recipients of God’s unmerited favor. It leaves us with a God much larger than our own own human understanding can even begin to fathom. Now what?

Recently I sat in a room with about fifty pastors (which is an interesting thing in itself and should probably be its own post) to hear a presenter talk about the Organic Church — this particular presenter’s label for house churches (not to be confused with the Neil Cole book by the same name). I went not knowing what to expect really, although since it was a denominationally sponsored meeting I had some pre-conceived assumptions. In simplistic terms the concept he presented was one of taking the church to neighborhoods and gathering in small groups of people as opposed to the large singular gathering each week. 

The presenter was very quick to point out that this was not a replacement for church as we know it but rather a new form, or a new alternative to traditional churches or church planting. Some of the people in attendance weren’t tracking too well with his presentation but most were in agreement with him. That was until he began talking in terms that made it sound like this organic movement somehow needed to be harnessed, strategized, systematized and institutionalized so the denomination could support it and be able to jump on the house church bandwagon.

The presenter spoke in terms of a system for training, accountability, reporting and multiplying. In short, he seemed to be taking something organic (his word) and turn it into a church growth strategy. In the meeting I voiced a concern that should we try and denominationalize house churches we might kill them before they ever got started. I believe in the concept of house churches and believe they will be a significant part of the church fabric of the future. I even applaud the denomination’s desire to understand them and give blessing to those people who prefer to gather in that type of setting. However, if they’re going to truly be organic then let them evolve organically and not strategically.

Although my thoughts on the subject haven’t fully crystallized, here’s my take on things right now. I like the concept of house churches and believe having a small group of people extending the love of God to others around them (and even around the world) can be a very powerful thing. I also believe it’s a very Biblical concept and should the Holy Spirit choose to bless it through multiplication that’s fine, but I don’t see that as the goal. While I think it’s fine for house churches to affiliate with a denomination I’m not sure it’s all that beneficial. 

It seems to me that house churches have the opportunity to “be the church” without having the requirement of keeping church machinery grinding forward. House churches don’t need to focus on increasing their numbers and can instead focus on increasing their love for God, each other and the world around them. I believe there is a place for the traditional church and the house church, and believe they can even co-exist within a denominational framework if people so choose. 

So having said all that, what’s your take? What’s your preference?

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