Beauty and Brokenness

Posted: May 9, 2018 in Uncategorized

Nestled in the mountains here in Clark, CO with coffee mug in hand,  my musings naturally turn to beauty.  Artist Mako Fujimura speaks of creation and beauty as the antidote for brokenness.   That both fascinates and resonates with me.  My initial response is gratitude for Annamarie agreeing to marry this mess of a man so I could live near beauty my whole life. 🙂

Dostoyevsky is often quoted (from The Idiot) as writing that “beauty will save the world.”  I have not read this work, but understand that in context Dostoyevsky did not in fact believe that beauty alone could save the world.   For him, beauty could not be rightly separated from good and truth.   And it was this beauty, along with suffering, that could arrest the human heart and bring it redemption.

Pondering Fujimura’s thoughts again, I am reminded that Dan Allender and Tremper Longman (in The Cry of the Soul) write about brokenness being the antidote to shame.

So….beauty from shame through brokenness.   That resonates as well. Beauty (with all that is good and true) and suffering leading to redemption.   Sounds like the promises of Isaiah 61.   Sounds like the cross and resurrection.   Foolishness to many, but to those who are being saved – the power of God!

The beauty of my Lord, Jesus Christ, is that He became one of us…vulnerable, broken, abandoned, betrayed.   He died a shameful public death.  If he had been one of Marvel’s superheroes, there would be little we could connect to, but He became like one of us.  He was a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief.

I turned 54 today.  I am blessed.  I have been broken many times.  Over the years I have become acquainted with grief.  Yet I am being redeemed day by day.  My identity is no longer in shame and guilt but in Christ.  I have been surrounded by beauty.  The beauty of a Savior.  The beauty of current and former youth group members and friends who are pursuing what is good and true and beautiful through their brokenness.  The beauty of a family who is real, who has been broken, who is being redeemed day by day.

Where are you discovering beauty through brokenness?

 

 

 

 

 

It’s been awhile since I wrote anything. But here is something fresh:

In March of 2013 I was having a prayer time. I asked the Lord if He would give me an image, a revelation of Himself. The only thing that came to my mind was a goose. A large grey goose. My response: “I must be doing this wrong!”

I’ve had very little experience with geese. In 1983, I put a large and fiesty one in the old Homestead at Triple-R ranch to surprise the program director. (Sorry, Carol!) And occasionally where I used to live in south Tulsa I would have to slow the car while some Canadian geese walked across the road. But nothing in my experience that would bring a goose to mind in prayer!

So I put that image aside and asked something else. We had this conversation and I recorded it in my journal. I am going to share part of this private conversation with you as an encouragement for you and for me on my birthday:

Me: Lord, what is your name today?
Lord: My name is PURSUER, the ONE WHO PURSUES.
Me: Lord, why did you reveal this holy name to me?
Lord/Pursuer: Because like a goose I protect what is mine. I am vigilant, I will not be cowed. Like a goose, I set the agenda. I do not yield or surrender that to others. Whom I have set my sights on, I will pursue. They will be mine.
Me: Is there more?
Pursuer: You are mine. I have set my sights on you. I will not let you go. I will pursue you, protect you, be proactive on your behalf.

Me: What is your Word for me today?
Pursuer: I have redeemed you. I have called you by name. You are mine.
Me: Pursuer, why did you give me this Scripture?
Pursuer: I have the agenda. I have the ownership. I am not responding to anything in you. I feel tenderly about you. It has already been done. It is accomplished. Your identity is that you belong to me.
Me: Pursuer, tell me more!
Pursuer: You get your identity from so many things. Let that go. I am enough for you. This is nothing that you did. This is my agenda, my action, my initiative. I called you by name. I redeemed you. Specifically. I know who you are. And you belong to me.

There’s more, but I will stop there.

From time to time since then, I have mused over the image of the goose. Clearly it was the revelation of God to me on that day. Our college minister told me that the early Celtic church saw the Holy Spirit as a goose. I tucked that away and forgot about it. Recently, I took a couple of weeks for prayer and rest. For over a third of the last decade, I have been doing a second full-time job of someone in transition on my staff. No complaints, but I was weary and had begun trying to do things in my own strength.

I went to Seattle and stayed with good friends in the ministry. I prayed, slept, read, listened, soaked, worshipped and painted a fence. And we visited together. I had been to their home about 14 years prior and participated in a nearby revival where I had an encounter with the Holy Spirit that I would characterize as unexpected, wild, and yet tremendously loving. It affected me profoundly. We were reminiscing about that time and I remembered the Wild Goose. I pulled out my journal and read the account to them.

It is hard to boil all the richness of this journey…this Wild Goose chase….into a blogpost…or even ten!  But clearly I have not been on a Wild Goose Chase…the Wild Goose has been pursuing me.

The thought came to me that I should see if there were a poem or a song written about the Wild Goose.  There is.  So without further ado, I introduce to you one of my new favorite artists Anne MacCallum, and her song An Geadh-Glas (The Wild Goose) from her album Over The Moon.

Listen at cdbaby.com/cd/annemaccallum or check out anne’s own site at annesings.com

The Problem of the Pharisees

Posted: October 26, 2015 in Uncategorized

Most of us hate hypocrisy, especially in other people. Meanwhile, we alternately love and are cynical about those who seem to have it all together.

To read the rest of my thoughts on this, go to my article at the918.org

Social media has been overflowing with articles about the imminent release of the pornographic film “50 Shades of Grey.” More articles than we can list here have highlighted the source book’s links to relational damage, disorders, destruction, abuse. And some have gone beyond sounding the warning to giving an empathetic but honest response, like this wonderful response from Annie Edwards: freedom meets pleasure

This loving response by caring adults to the huge media hype is calling attention in new ways to sexual exploitation, sexual abuse, and abuse of power. Anyone interested in truth does not have to look far to discover the science behind the damage that normalizing a film like this will do to individual’s ability to have healthy relationships but also the harm that viewing a film that links sexuality and violence can do to the developing brain of a teen or young adult. I am grateful to all those who are loving their neighbor by speaking out.

But the apparent popularity of this dangerous tripe in book form tells me that people have a love hunger. This must be more than middle age women wanting to be in “the in group.” I think it speaks to a hunger across the ages for something more than people have. People wonder if there is more to love. Here is an opportunity for those who know to point to what love is.

Love Is the Greatest.

“If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing. Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. Prophecy and speaking in unknown languages and special knowledge will become useless. But love will last forever! Now our knowledge is partial and incomplete, and even the gift of prophecy reveals only part of the whole picture! But when the time of perfection comes, these partial things will become useless. When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things. 12 Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely. Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.”

Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007, 2013 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved. #FightTheNewDrug EndSexualExploitation.Org

Sometimes the best way forward is by taking a step back.

I have been greatly influenced by the legacy of John Wesley. His understanding of God as a Father, his deep insights into God’s immeasurable grace, his gift of creating structures that facilitate spiritual growth and his love of questions that go right to the heart of the matter are all great gifts to the modern church and to me personally.

Among the powerful gifts that Wesley left us was the Covenant Renewal Service. (You can check it out here)

As we face a New Year, it is common to focus on our own resolve…or if we are more hip, our lack of it. But Wesley reminds me that my best is inadequate. And it is. Absolutely inadequate. But the Good News is that my Lord is enough.

That understanding doesn’t call me (or any of us) to some esoteric, abstract state, but a real earthy grappling of the great opportunities that lie ahead of us this year. “…Christ has many services to be done. Some are easy, others are difficult. Some bring honour, others bring reproach. Some are suitable to our natural inclinations and temporal interests, others are contrary to both… Yet the power to do all these things is given to us in Christ, who strengthens us.

I will fail this year. Probably before the day is out. As I failed yesterday…and the day before…and all of last year! If I am dependent on my own strength, I (and those around me) are to be pitied. But I am not my own person!! As we say in our affirmation of discipleship in our church, I “have been bought with a price.” And His purposes for me…and for you…are true.

Will you join me this year, by the grace of God, in praying the prayer that ends the Wesley Covenant Service?

I am no longer my own, but thine.

Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.

Put me to doing, put me to suffering.

Let me be employed by thee or laid aside by thee, exalted for thee or brought low by thee.

Let me be full, let me be empty.

Let me have all things, let me have nothing.

I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.*

Happy New Year!

* The United Methodist Hymnal (Nashville: The United Methodist Publishing House, 1989), 607.

Link  —  Posted: January 1, 2015 in Uncategorized
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In everything give thanks, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” I Thessalonians 5:18 (NASB)

Holy Scripture has relatively few verses that say directly “this is the will of God for you.”  Can you think of more than a handful?  I seriously doubt it. So this must be pretty important.

I am personally convinced that gratitude (along with trust and obedience) are the primary markers of discipleship in the heart of a follower of Jesus Christ. Am I growing in trust? Am I growing in obedience? Am I growing in gratitude?

I don’t think it is an accident that our culture has chosen this weekend out of all the weekends in the year to focus us on Black Friday and it’s potential for cultivating envy, discontent, competition and the accumulation of stuff. But to keep this short this Thanksgiving morning, let me simply offer 3 reasons that I believe thanksgiving (with a small t)…or gratitude…is essential.

1. Gratitude takes my focus off myself onto another. No man or woman is an island. We are dependent on others and the Lord. To believe otherwise is delusional and dangerous. Gratitude returns me to a sane starting point.

2. Gratitude is an antidote to my pride. Pride is the temptation to believe I am the source, the self-sufficient one, the one who knows and can accomplish all that is needed. It’s a destructive, even damning lie and the antidote is gratitude.

3. Gratitude is an antidote to my sense of entitlement. My sinful nature easily moves me to focus on what I think I deserve, my “rights”, a reducing of my relationships to transactions and “how people can help me” instead of “how can I love them.”

Gratitude strikes at the very heart of entitlement’s cousins – comparison and envy. It reminds me that I am not the source…of anything!. And it moves me from the myopic selfishness of focusing on myself to focusing on others and ultimately on our Creator. When I practice gratitude I discover joy, contentment, peace. I discover that others find me easier to live with. I discover that my heart begins to change.

I am thankful for Thanksgiving and a national holiday that invites us to respond to the love and mercy of Christ with the baby steps of saying thank you!

What are you thankful for today?

Rapture theology has been a hot topic in the United States for almost 200 years!  That’s a long time for a person, a short time in church history.

If you knew me, you would know that for more than twenty years I have been explaining to young people that the doctrine of the rapture is new in church history, is fairly localized in its popularity, and is not specifically taught in Scripture.   You might have heard me raise the question whether those who are “left behind” in Luke 17 are the wicked or the righteous.

But when this remake of the movie “Left Behind” got close to release, here is what has been bouncing around in my mind. Why are we so worked up about this movie? Why is there a race in social media for many Christians to debunk this movie? Why is it suddenly important not to be “left behind” in our public denunciations?

Will this be a good movie?  I don’t honestly know.  And I’ve discovered people have a lot of criteria for deciding what makes or doesn’t make a good movie. Here are a few I’ve heard.

  • It made me cry
  • It made me laugh
  • It made me feel something
  • It didn’t have any sex in it
  • It didn’t have violence
  • It didn’t have more than 5 swear words in it.
  • It had a good story
  • It had great special effects
  • The acting was believable
  • I heard it was good

Personally, I’m a worldview guy.  It’s the worldview of a movie that matters to me more than anything else.  That means I’m going to love movies like “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy or “Its a Wonderful Life” but be troubled by the message of  impactful movies like “Meet Joe Black” or “Saving Private Ryan.”   (I can hear the comments beginning already!)   I may be inspired and encouraged, but I don’t expect hobbits to give me  a treatise on redemption or look to a young boy to teach me about heaven.

I don’t happen to agree with the theology of the movie, Left Behind.  But I feel no need to denounce it.  I was positively influenced as a young boy to wrestle with the condition of my soul by a similar movie called “A Thief in the Night.”  As I look around me today, what really has me thinking is….what is the worldview of Christians that would rather race to publicly denounce a movie than engage in thoughtful conversation around a potential cultural event about end times and sin and a returning Savior?  Who is our audience?  Do we think that our theological purity proclaimed on social media is going to create an atmosphere of mutual respect, genuine seeking for truth and thoughtful dialogue?  Or do we care?

Are we just so anxious to be right that we don’t care who gets “left behind!?!”

My taste in movies is pretty eclectic, but I’m a big fan of the Disney movie, Iron Will. There is a scene at the end of the movie that really inspires me and reminds me what a huge impact those who surround us, who believe in us and who are cheering us on have in our lives. I am reminded of “the great cloud of witnesses” mentioned in Scripture – those saints that have gone before us and I believe are cheering us on.

Last Sunday I had separate moments as a dad and a youth pastor that inspired me anew to be a passionate cheerleader for every person I can to run well and to finish strong. If you are interested, read on.

Preaching on Sunday I looked into the audience wondering if my children would be there. I hadn’t asked them to be. I hadn’t even thought of it until I sat down. But I was excited to be bringing the Word and couldn’t help but wonder. After all, there were two services offered that hour. And they had heard me preach dozens and dozens of times before. Why would they come?

Our executive minister was up before me and she complimented my family in her remarks and had each of the four who were in Tulsa stand. They were all there – and so were others. My eldest was there with her husband. A boyfriend had driven from Stillwater to hear me. Good family friends had come across town, missing attending their own service to sit with my family. A young adult from a former youth group was there. Other friends who normally attend a different service were there. It caught me by surprise, but I found myself so encouraged. I was humbled and grateful that my family and friends had changed their routine to say with their actions, “I believe in you!”

After the services, we had a leaders meeting for all those with whom we partner in youth ministry. As I looked across the room and saw table after table of young adults to aging Boomers who have invested themselves in the lives of teens, I was moved. Surrounding our youth were these adults who love them, who support them, who call them to walk with Jesus, and who run the race with them focusing their eyes on the finish line. Weekly, even daily, this group of men and women proves by their actions to our young people “I believe in you!”

That afternoon I went to the baptism of two young men. Friends, church members, other disciples surrounded the pool as these two proclaimed their turning from sin and their trust in Jesus. Those surrounding the young men called out words of affirmation and promises to continue to walk with them. Their attendance said “I believe in you” and their words echoed “I will be there for you.” I knew…and so did they…that there would be days (like in the story of Iron Will) where we would need each other for the strenght to take the next step, to persevere, to move toward the finish line.

Who are you surrounding? Who are you cheering on? Who have you told this week with your actions “i believe in you!” And who were some of those who were there for you?

Graduation season is in full bloom. Our youth group will graduate this month 25 seniors from thirteen schools and two homeschool groups. We hosted an 8th grade graduation (last Wed) and host an upcoming Senior Sunday (this Sunday). Personally, my youngest son’s eighth grade graduation from the school of dialectic at Augustine Academy was last night and my oldest son’s graduation from Jenks Public High School is Monday night. You might not be shocked to discover I have been thinking about graduation celebrations.

As I called a number of senior’s families this week and several 8th grade families last week, I heard their stories and was able to encourage and to pray for them. I was struck again – as I am each year – by the privilege of “coming alongside” and “being with” families in times like these. I jotted down some thoughts about graduations in the church. They are almost stream of consciousness. Let me know what you think:

Why do we celebrate graduations in the youth ministry and in the church?

It seems to me that the very heart of what we should be about finds its antecedent in the ministry of Jesus. He was WITH people both in the common times (along the way, at a meal) and at the celebrations (wedding, parties, Passover feast etc) and other transitions (funerals). It is interesting that His ministry both starts and ends with a wedding celebration.

How should we celebrate? The Incarnation as presented in the ancient Christ Hymn in Phil 2 calls us to not seek our own interest or agendas, but to value highly those of others. It calls us not to be grasping at position or power or role, but to empty ourselves and serve. It calls us to go on others turf and to experience with them their joys and sorrows. We have talked a lot this year in our youth ministry about Christ as a model of invitation and not exclusion. Scripture teaches us that we may choose to exclude ourselves, but that Christ gives us every opportunity to understand and respond to His invitation. As His ambassadors, we seek to operate the same way.

Graduation is a time perfectly created for youth ministers and other incarnational missionaries in our culture. The whole culture celebrates, but has no answers. They know this is a meaningful time. But they don’t really know why. That is a great starting point. Graduation provides a time for us not to preach or correct, but to join in with those that celebrate…to serve…to encourage…to alleviate stress for…and with our very presence in the parties as Christ’s ambassadors…to lift up Jesus Christ.

How does that work within our programming? I believe Jesus would be at the graduation parties. Jesus would be listening to the parents and grandparents brag. Jesus would take an interest in the half-formed dreams of kids. Jesus would show up….and lift up…and shower with love in all joy. And so…

We go. We attend every graduation and we connect with every graduating family. At least one of us is there. We cheer. We affirm. We ask good questions. And we listen.

We throw a party. Not only to celebrate, but to do the things that a rite of passage does – to offer “safe passage,” to provide significant learning, to connect to community, and to provide opportunity for transformation. But also to celebrate. As the First Family – the priority relationships for those who belong to Christ, we join graduates in their joy.

We invite. Every single phone call is a chance to share in the joy and to offer pray for this joyful, stressful and occasionally painful time. Every intentional personal invitation is a reminder that they are not forgotten. That they are loved. That we long to be included in their joy. So we call everyone. The program is announced. But the people are contacted. We invite. And we discover stuff. And so we pray.

We stay in touch. Because our sheep are not just the ones that find their way to the church each week. They are those we have been given to shepherd. We have compassion. We understand that they – like we – are just dust. We know how sin and busyness alienates. And we keep the bridge clean and the door open and the communication inviting.

Why do we celebrate graduations in the church? Because we are Christ’s ambassadors!

There are three places I have been where I remember thinking, “Wow. Look at all these nice cars!” All three were high school parking lots.

In the church where I worked previously for 12 years, I can remember families agonizing with the decision of whether or not to get their child a car when he or she turned 16. They wanted them to know that driving was a privilege and not a right. They wanted them to have ownership in the expensive decision (beyond “this is what I want”). They wanted a car to be a response to actual need and not to desire. And teen driving is dangerous. Numbers I have read tell me that over 5,000 deaths and 400,000 injuries each year are a result of teens drivers age 16 to 20. They are four times as likely as any age group to get in an accident.

And yet the parents themselves felt incredible peer pressure. This is interesting to me because Tom and Ray Magliozzi, the brothers who host National Public Radio’s Car Talk, polled 5,000 listeners a couple of years ago on whether or not a 16-year-old should have his own car. Sixty-seven percent of those listeners answered with a resounding “no.” (Noted in The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Personal Finance in your 40s and 50s, p 70). A mention of the possibility of not buying a 16-year-old a car was met not with approval or understanding the reasonableness of the decision, but with incredulity and with a passionate defense of the virtues of buying one’s teen a car. And there are some good reasons…but solving that dilemma is not really the point of this post.

My kids were younger and so I watched with interest the families that struggled out loud with this issue. I believe that every single one purchased a vehicle for their child when they turned 16 and became part “believers.” And where I now live and work (for the past seven years), buying your child a car appears to be a fait accompli. I have not heard one parent vocalize the struggle. I am attuned to this struggle as my 4th child prepares to turn 16 and will do so without a car. Gone are the days when my dad and other parents told their offspring: “When you can afford the insurance and the upkeep, you have my permission to buy yourself a car.”

My point, oddly enough, is this. I think Eugene Peterson’s chapter title is dated. but his content is not. Do you agree?

This is long enough so (cliffhanger music) tune in next time to catch a post about his content in chapter 10.