A Suprise that took my breath away

Papasmurfw200modmodI was taken back tonight by a simple comment by my dad…you’d have to read my blog post from a couple of days ago to get the entire context.  Let me suffice to say here and now that this sort of comment from him will be stored in my memory and "pondered" in my heart for quite some time.  I was sitting in my dad’s living room getting mentally prepared to leave tomorrow to return to Eagle, Idaho when I asked a simple question to my Papa Smurf…I said, "you must be ready for me to leave" to which he responded "no, I’m not".  There have been few times in my life where my breath has been taken away in my relationship with my dad…he has told me that he loved me only a couple of times that I can remember.  I fully expected a different answer…no, I didn’t expect him to say, "don’t let the door hit you in the a** on the way out"…it is not that type of comment that I expected.  But to hear him say that he wasn’t ready for me to leave made a huge impact on me.  I don’t know why specifically but I do know that it has told me something that has been hard for me to really admit and seriously take into my soul over the last few years:  that is, my dad actually needs me!  All I can say is, "go figure".  Enough for now…it’s late and I have to spend some time "recovering" from that statement.

A difficult journey

ExhaustedI’ve known the time was coming…I could hear its "footsteps" from the distance like the rumble of thunder faraway.  I’ve watched, listened, helped, encouraged, challenged, grieved and supported many, many people over the years as their parents moved into a season of life where time and energy was demanded.  I am not surprised by any means…I expected it in a way.  My problem is that I expected my mother to need the help as she got older.  That was "addressed" beyond my ability to control several years ago when she unexpectedly died.  Now, my father…the one who has always prided himself on his rugged individualism and self-reliance is in need of some support and help.  He’s battled a bipolar disorder for years…for the last 20 or so years, he’s been surviving and coping with the issue.  I’m not going to pretend or communicate that he had his issues licked…he didn’t.  They were simply under control…to a point. He lived for 20 years still able to work and function relatively well.  In fact, when my mom and grandmother were not doing well physically, my dad was the primary care-giver.  He took care of them like a charge nurse.  When they both died over the past three years, he’s moved on.  He worked, socialized, lived in his small apartment and seemed to be on the way to living for a while in peace and contentment.  Then, an accident happened before Christmas this past year that threw him into a tailspin emotionally.  Now, without belaboring the point, he has just been released from two week’s of psychiatric hospitalization and is attempting to build his emotional life once more.  He’s really struggling…as you may know, I’ve done battle with depression for over 20 years…in fact, I’ve been doing some hand to hand combat with it myself over the past couple of months.  For me to jump into his "pit" and become his #1 cheerleader has been both a challenge and exhausting.  So, this stage in our journey has father and son has taken a dramatic turn…you see, I’ve never been that close to my dad.  Even now, as I lay out some help and companionship for him over the next few days, I can see him struggle with the reality of my presence and countenance.  Conversations are difficult…getting information from him is tougher and watching his confidence in living life diminish rapidly is absolutely heart-breaking.  I frankly don’t know where it is heading…but I’m living the journey with him.  That’s going to have to be all that I can do now…one foot in front of the other…help without expectation…love without rules or boundaries.  May the Lord bless these feeble and difficult steps. 

How can this make sense?


"How can this make sense?", by Robin Dugall

People throughout human history have used a plethora of words and
phrases in an attempt to summarize the depth of feeling, shock, dismay,
confusion, and agony that accompanies times of pain and suffering:

"The Dark Night of the Soul" – St. John of the Cross
"My God, my God why have you forsaken me" – David
"If at all possible, may this cup pass from me" – Jesus
"I have found the paradox, that is you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love" – Mother Teresa
whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts
in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world" – CS Lewis
"You  may never know that Jesus is all you need until Jesus is all you have" Corrie Ten Boom

"Tired of trying, sick of crying, Yeah I’m smiling, but inside I’m dying." – Anonymous

suffers…there is pain through the world.  To ignore it, excuse it,
rationalize it, or pretend it doesn’t exist will only lead to
disillusionment, fear and confusion.  We have to engage it…we have to
engage the one thing that is universally human…pain.  But that’s not
the end of the story by any means…the incredible power and beauty of
being human is that we live in a world saturated with the presence of
God.  We are in the midst of a story that has spanned the ages where
God is at work in the midst of the human experience.  So, at times like
these, we have more than ourselves and our communities to which to
turn.  We have a God who stands with outstretched arms to embrace those
who call upon His love, mercy and care. 

What can God say
about this and every other evil?  You see, we want an explanation.  We
want to know what evil really is, why it’s there in the first place,
why it’s been allowed to continue, and how long this will go on.  You
can’t blame any of us for that!  It is interesting but when the bible
talks about evil it shows us again and again what God can do, is doing
and will do about evil!  That is the point of the biblical story.

only is God not immobilized, ignorant or passive about human suffering
and pain…but God also addresses evil by getting personally and
profoundly involved in our lives.  That’s what the incarnation is all
about…that’s what Jesus is all about.  God getting up close and
personal with our experience and addressing it through the life, words,
death and resurrection of Jesus.  But more than that…in addition to
the incarnation, God wants to get US involved in speaking to evil and
pain.  On the one hand, God is confronting it, judging it and doing
something to stop evil and suffering from having its desired effect.
Yet, on the other hand, he is doing something new, beginning a new
project through which the underlying problem of the curse and the
disunity of the human family will be replaced by blessing.

great NO to evil has been acted out in the person of Jesus  The New
Testament story shows us how Jesus took the worst of evil and
“exhausted it”.  Jesus took it on and beat it.  His resurrection isn’t
some grandstanding of God; not some strange miracle; not some heavenly
reward for a “job well done”; rather it is the only and powerful result
of Jesus’ confrontation with evil.  The incredibly powerful truth is
that the work of Jesus as seen through his life and death isn’t
something that happened but something that happens.  We cannot reduce
it to a proposition – some neat statement that you can simply believe
as if just believing it settles the problem of sin and evil.  It is a
living reality.  It needs to be a living reality in the brokenness of

A brilliant New Testament scholar and pastor once remarked,

the Gospels offer is not a philosophical explanation of evil, what it
is or why it’s there, nor a set of suggestions for how we might adjust
our lifestyles so that evil will mysteriously disappear from the world,
but the story of an event in which the living God deals with it.”
N.T. Wright

The Gospels tell the story of the Creator God
taking responsibility for what has happened in creation and bearing the
weight of its problems on his own shoulders.  As Sydney Carter put it
in one of his finest songs, ‘it’s God they out to crucify, instead of
you and me’. Or, as one old evangelistic tract put it, the nations of
the world got together to pronounce judgment on God for all the evils
in the world only to realize with a shock that God has already served
his sentence”. There is a personal meaning in the cross of Jesus –
there will be a time when you and me, sinners that we are, will be
totally sinless, when God completes his work within us.  But WE ALREADY
HAVE, in anticipation of that future fact, forgiveness in the present
and the new life of the Holy Spirit that is made available to us
because Jesus was lifted up on the cross.

The call of the
good news of Jesus is for the people of God, the community of God, to
IMPLEMENT the victory of Jesus through suffering love.  The cross isn’t
something that happened…it happens!  It needs to be put into practice.
Two more quotes will finish up this brief article, both of which from
Tom Wright:

“Whether we are dealing with international
relations or one on one personal relations, evil must be named and
confronted.  There must be no sliding around it, no attempt (whether
for the sake of an easy life or in search of a quick fix) to pretend it
wasn’t so bad after all.  Only when that has been done, when both evil
and the evildoer have been identified as what and who they are…can
there be the embrace of the one who has deeply hurt and wounded us or
me.  Of course, even then this may not happen if the perpetrator of the
evil refuses to see his or her action in that light.  But if I have
named the evil and done my best to offer genuine forgiveness and
reconciliation, I am free to love the person even if they don’t want to
respond…the fact is that when we forgive someone we not only release
them from the burden of our anger and its possible consequences; we
release ourselves from the burden of whatever it was they had done to
us, and from the crippled emotional state in which we shall go on
living if we don’t forgive them and instead cling to our anger and
bitterness.  Forgiveness then – including God’s forgiveness of us, our
forgiveness of one another and our forgiveness even of ourselves – is a
central part of deliverance from evil.”

And one more…

isn’t that the cross has won the victory, so there’s nothing more to be
done.  Rather, the cross has won the victory as a result of which there
are now redeemed human beings getting ready to act as God’s wise
agents, his stewards, constantly worshipping their Creator and
constantly, as a result, being equipped to reflect his image into his
creation, to bring his wise and healing order to the world, putting the
world to rights under his just and gentle rule.”

May your journey through this time be filled with God’s forgiving and healing presence.

The total irrelevance of “The Secret”

Last night in community, our ekklesia joined together to watch a video that accompanies the best-selling book, The Secret.  I had heard of the book because it has been on the best-seller’s list for quite some time.  In addition, it has been repeatedly featured on my favorite candidate for the anti-christ, Oprah Winfrey’s television show.  What prompted me to buy the video and ask our community to watch it and comment on it together was a situation that occurred at a local church where Christ-followers were quoting the book and telling others to read it.  In a bible study my wife Vicky attends there were people encouraging each other to buy it and begin to apply "the secret" to their lives.  So, because I love to be aware of cultural phenoms, I picked up the video.  I am a realist when it comes to our community though…I knew that most of them wouldn’t read the book even if we challenged them to…so, the video presentation of the book’s thesis sufficed.  As we began, I told our community about a few things: I gave them a few comments about the history of gnosticism, the Rosicrucians, the infiltration of platonic philosophy into the mainstream of Christian thought and I also reminded them of the importance of NOT demonizing anything in culture but to seek to understand it, see where Jesus is in the middle of it, and then use it as an entrance into relationship and conversation for the kingdom.  We then viewed the 90 minute video.

I don’t want to take the time to get into it fully here…all I can say is that it is another incarnation of individualism, rapid narcissism, materialism, and complete worship of "me".  There’s nothing new here…just more bold statements about how "you" can get what you want in life…riches, houses, cars, vacations, anything you want or you can "visualize".  The real interesting part of the video was that as we were watching it in community, the news of what happened @ Virginia Tech was breaking news.  I thought to myself, "I guess those students and professors who were killed were not visualizing or feeling positive, successful thoughts today…that’s the reason they were all killed…the universe was giving them what they deserved…the "law of attraction" (which is the big secret) worked…they simply attracted death.  They got out of bed, stubbed their toe or something, maybe cussed under their breath, and the universe brought them more of what they were emoting. 

I simply want to say right here and right now – "The Secret" is irrelevant in dealing with real life.  It appeals to that which first attracted Adam/Eve to the tree of the knowledge of good and evil…the god of "me".  It has nothing to do with community, relationships, serving, suffering, self-denial, sacrifice, or any other ideal that is even close to being that which should be the praxis of anyone who claims Jesus, not as enlightened guide, but as Lord.  I would say to each person who sees this blog…don’t read the book…buy or rent the video…take 90 min. of your life and see what this "phenomenon" is about.  You need to know what this cultural phenomenon is all about.  Not to proof text here but see 2 Cor. 10:5, "We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ".  We need not fear!  We need not get defensive or claim this is an overblown attack and hide out in perceived religious bunkers.  We can take any thought captive and see God leverage it for the sake of the kingdom.  You can use it to enter into conversation with people about what reality and love is really all about.

One final comment – one of our community members rightly stated last night that there has been a strange "silence" from the Christian sub-culture on "The Secret".  I have my suspicions why that is true…so many so-called Christian organizations and even churches are steeped in the theology of prosperity and success.  Unfortunately in my sometimes jaded mind, when I hear things like "Your best life now", I think of what I heard and saw in "The Secret".  Trust me, this stuff is much more insidious then Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, DaVinci Code, Gay rights, MTV or any other target that is demonized by the religious subculture.   Let’s keep our eye on the ball, shall we?

Oh, one more thing – check out my friend, Mike Erre’s message on "The Secret".  This guy is not only a stud but a wise stud at that!  Here’s the link.  Go to the podcast or sermon for 03/19/07.  While your’s at it, subscribe to the podcast (and, because I wuv Mikey, buy his book, Jesus of Suburbia…I know it is shameless, but what can I say!).  Secondly, study a bit about Rosicrucians and The Secret by checking out their websites.  Here and here. 

Over and out!

Get it on it!

Allelon_new_02Many of you know that over the last several years, I’ve become enamored with missional ecclesiology and praxis.  When I started to read some of Lesslie Newbingin’s work as well as enter into conversation and debate with some leaders and theologians who were bringing thoughtful (and loving) critique to 20th century “church” practice, methodologies and paradigms, many things in my life started to fall into place. 

Over three years ago, I heard of an organization called, Allelon (www.allelon.org).  I signed up to received their emails and frequently checked out their website.  I discovered a deep sense of partnership and camaraderie with the people who live their Jesus journey within different model of doing “ekklesia”.  As soon as I moved to Idaho, I had to connect with these people and see firsthand how they were living and enter into the stream of how they were processing the Christian experience. 

This week’s Allelon journal features Alan Roxgurgh’s comments on missional life.  I would encourage each of you to read these comments carefully and continue to think about how much excitement there is in our time in history…I sincerely believe that he shares an understanding of living in the flow of who God is and what God is about in human history in a manner that is NOT confrontational for the sake of confrontation…it is NOT controversial for controversy’s sake…it is shared in love and with a desire for all of us to experience the depth of the heart and passion of Jesus.

Take a read…enjoy!

“It’s not only possible for all kinds of existing churches to innovate missional life but it’s at the heart of what God does. There are stories out there of the Spirit calling into being emerging missional local churches in congregations some of us would have given up on a few years ago. This is the nature of the God we worship and praise. Our Lord just keeps turning up in the most God-forsaken places. How else do you make sense of the Incarnation and the perduring life of both Israel and the church? These convictions are not based upon new theories of change, complexity and emergence but are a confession about the way God is revealed in Jesus. Those who say the church is dying in the West are mistaking the phenomenon of transition for death. They’re not the same! We may say the church we have known and experienced for the last 150 years or so no longer has legitimacy as the sign, witness, instrument and foretaste of the kingdom. But that’s very different from saying the church is dying. We shouldn’t confuse the two. The church in the West isn’t dying and it wont because God keeps turning up in all these places we so easily give up on because we see them as hopelessly out of tune with the times or just not getting what needs to take place. The stories emerging in these places are harbingers of God’s emerging life in old churches. Emergence theory tells us that when lots of little stories start to percolate you can be sure some strange attractors will start doing uncharacteristic and unexpected things. I believe lots of existing congregations are pregnant with strange attractors ready to do uncharacteristic things. That’s always the way of the Spirit. What a great time to be alive!” 

To read the entire article AND listen to Alan’s podcast, click here – http://www.allelon.org/resources/roxburgh/missional_life.cfm

O Community, Community, wherefore art thou Community?”

Customs_dog_sniffing“O Community, Community, wherefore art thou Community?”

It began in a garden, the bible tells us.  God working to bring life into being…creating the sky, the flora and fauna, land, animals, creatures of all kind and finally, in a stroke of genius, the likes of human beings.  It was all brought into existence – life and limb, leaf and branch, root and fin, pulsing heartbeats, all with the breath of life.  Genesis says that life was surging through creatures of such variety that they defy definition.  It was “all good”, the narrator tells us.  It was “all good” until Yahweh strolls through his world one day and notices the first “not good” of the beginning of existence as we would come to know it…it was not good that Adam was alone.  So, as the narrative continues its sweeping overview of the beginnings of God’s relationship with humanity, God is said to bring into living reality human community. 

Please understand that there is a bold context in this statement that cannot be ignored – God had been enjoying eternal community in the context of the Trinity.  I would be lying to you if I had any clue exactly what that means…trust me, much better men and women than me have waded into Trinitarian waters only to drown in the ultimate quicksand, the “mystery” of God.  Yet, it stands outside of debate…it is proclaimed and revealed without a hint of a need for apology or explanation – the eternal mystery of the Community of the Godhead.  And it is that Community that becomes the foundation, the image if you will, of that which is built into the fabric of human beings.

Now, you know, to quote an American cultural icon, “the rest of the story”.   You know how that community came to be severely damaged with the onslaught of deception and the taste of a fruit that symbolized humanity’s detachment from everything God had created.  You know how once relationships of trust ruled the day only to be followed by a deterioration of soul and spirit that pitted man against woman, brother against brother, human against creation and, ultimately and most tragically, human against God.  Yet, even so, the seed of Community, the imago dei was placed within the hearts of people, that image of which drew them not only to relationship but also placed within them a hunger for community that could not be satisfied until enjoyed to its ultimate splendor. 

The Biblical story tells us how we were created for and how we long for that which God sowed within us…true, life-giving, meaningful, relational connection.  Yet for so long I’ve wondered, why is it that community is so infrequently experienced?  Why is it that experiencing community is so difficult and apparently unattainable especially among those who are counted among those enjoying the covenant of grace and love demonstrated in the life and passion of Jesus?  To rip off a little bit of Billy Shakespeare, “O Community, Community, wherefore art thou Community?”

Eugene Peterson, in his powerfully thorough overview of Christian spirituality makes the following comments on Community:

“We bypass the community of Jesus when we cobble together a group of people whom we judge to have far more potential for carrying out Jesus’ kingdom work than the merely baptized.  When they tell us that mere people, ordinary people, aren’t all that important – it’s big ideas and urgent causes and stirring visions that real Christians are concerned with…then it is time to re-submerge ourselves in the story of Jesus…we (also) avoid the community of Jesus when we slip into a spectator role…we (also) interfere with this Spirit-created community when we try to take over”.  Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, sum of points in the final section, “Christ plays in Community”

You see, human beings…you and me work overtime to tear down what God has created.  There is something within us that keeps crying out “me” every time God calls us to “others” and into relationship.  We know that community bestows true identity but we fight it tooth and nail all with the mindset that if we could only get our act together, then we would have time for relationships and acts of love.  So, we make a habit of exclusion.  We become professionals at incestuous relationships that only benefit our goals and directions in life.  We opt out for control and titles and one-upmanship roles in a selfish attempt to minimize obstacles that get in the way of me getting what I want.  We justify every end run on God’s design with platitudes based on efficiency, proof-texted sections of the bible, the latest business model of success, or simple “I can’t help myself” excuse.  We relegate those around us who long for a life in the “game” of the Kingdom to spectator roles as we abuse them with what we want in order to get what we feel is God’s will for their lives. 

I really believe that more Christ-followers need to be praying for more love and deeper love for people than they do for parking spaces, God’s will for their business, the latest new car, the church’s building project, or even for faithfulness and fruitfulness in their ministries.  With all the seminars, conferences, books, and classes that I have been exposed to in over 35 years of following Jesus, I have rarely, if ever, seen significant time and energy spent on simply what it means for us to explore love. Community is what we need.  Community is the place where reality of love and forgiveness is experienced.  I would venture to say that the more there is of us, the less there is of God AND the less there is of imago dei.  God’s image is community.  That’s why we all need to long for it, look for it, work for it, teach it, live it, model it, struggle to discover it, and ultimately enjoy it.  “O community, community, wherefore art thou community?” 

Today, the search for an EASTER sermon!

EasterLooking for a good Easter sermon!  That’s right…I’ve read and heard alot of sermons over the past years…unfortunately, most of them focus on the CROSS!  Now, there’s nothing wrong about messages on the cross.  In fact, for a majority of Christ-followers, we need more theology of the cross.  For a sub-culture enamored with triumphalism and "victorious Christian living", the cross shows us again and again the issues of suffering, self-denial, community, grace and forgiveness.  My opinion…humbly…is that we have yet to plumb those depths.  But come on!  Can someone give us a good sermon on Easter?  There is something that happened that day that literally changed the lives of millions of people for 1000’s of years.  There is something that needs to be said about what the "alive" Jesus has to say and do with us.  I listened to several messages on the internet and in person…and I didn’t really hear the "so what" about Easter.  What does Easter have to do with our lives?  Is it just an afterthought of substitutionary atonement?  Is it something that God did simply because he had a dead "son" on his hands?  Does the resurrection have anything to do with your life and mine today?  Is it just about heaven?  If so, what difference does it make in real life, real problems, real relationships, real struggles, etc, etc.?  So, I’m on a search for some good Easter sermons.  Truth is, I’m listening to a pretty good one now…my "old friend" Kevin Murphy @ St. Matthew in Walnut Creek, California has a great take on Easter.  You can check it out on the church’s website (http://www.saintmatthew.org/resources/r.htm) or on ITunes.  I read a good one on Chris Erdman’s blog (http://odyssey.blogs.com/odyssey/)…any others???