Archive for the ‘Different Moments’ Category

safety

A few weeks ago, my wife sent me a picture our daughter had drawn.   A stick figure that seems wrapped in a straight jacket, that my wife (because she rocks, naturally) asked our daughter to tell her more about.daddycross

Let me pause for a moment to remind the reader: We’ve had our daughter home from the DR Congo for a bit over a year now.  She’s learned a lot, and grown in so many ways.  One of the sources of her growth has been involvement in church activities and lessons.  A focus of our children’s’ ministry here at Moundford Free Methodist Church last year was to teach the kids about faithful followers of Jesus.  People who suffered for the cause of spreading the good news of the Love of Jesus – even when there were sometimes large prices to pay.

So when our daughter explained the picture to mommy, she shared “It’s daddy, and the mean people tied him up.”  My wife asked why, and she said “Because he was telling people about Jesus.”

It may have just been a silly moment of imagination.   But it may have actually been something in the back of her mind/heart for months now – wondering if and when daddy might actually be taken away or hurt because of how he spends his time telling others about the Love of Jesus.  We’ve assured her, thankfully, daddy doesn’t have to worry about this.  My job is safe (although maybe it should seem more threatening to the powers that be at times?) to do.

It made me incredibly thankful, when I allowed it to settle. Hanging from my door lately is a leather cross made by Coptic Christians in Egypt, given to me by a friend back in college.  It reminds me each day as I walk into my office – how thankful I can be to have a place where my life and work is not threatened each day simply because of Jesus.  It causes me to pause and pray for those for whom “safety” means something so far away and unknown.

I’m thankful my daughter (now) doesn’t have to worry about daddy being hurt or killed by “the mean people” who don’t know about the Love of God.  But there are children globally who aren’t free from that worry.  May we lift up our brothers and sisters in prayer even now, and live lives that strive to not take for granted the freedom we have to proclaim the love & peace of Jesus in the unique ways we’re given…

a snapshot of celebration.

Easter week is over.  The dust is beginning to settle on a roller coaster of a month.  There are still large unknowns about what God has in store, but we are incredibly hopeful about how we can not only be used for His Kingdom, but be blessed in the process.  This week in my “Spiritual Formation” class, we focused primarily on the spiritual discipline of “Celebration”.  We read the chapter from Richard Foster in his “Celebration of Discipline“.  I wrote a short response, which included this paragraph:

“How much more powerful is a testimony of someone who clings to and proclaims the goodness of God, in the midst of great struggle – than that of someone who praises the goodness of God, having just escaped the clutches of suffering? It doesn’t take divine empowerment to have joy in the midst of visible blessing. However, it does often require the Holy Spirit to Love someone who has (or continues to) offended you. Foster says the Joy and Celebration he speaks of come after the other disciplines and a life of obedience he’s been writing about in this book all along. ”

Looking back on what I wrote, I could see someone reading it, and missing the important focus.  It is easy to hear culture these days, and be influenced to want blessing and comfort so that we can proclaim “Look, God is good!!”  It’s easy to hear my words above, echoing those of Richard Foster and many other great Christian leaders, and want to seek suffering along with a broken world so that we can proclaim by God’s strength, “Look, God is good!!”

The emphasis, however, should not be on the conditions we’re experiencing.  Which is kinda the point.  We are called to proclaim the goodness of God, simply because God IS Good!  God is not “good” like anything we’ve ever called “good” before, and yet God is the substantial essence of which all other “good” is merely an echo. 

So yes – my brothers and sisters who are enjoying the blessings of a comfortable life this week – I join with you in proclaiming “Look, God is good!!”  To my brothers and sisters suffering and oppressed, I join with you in proclaiming “Look, God is good!!”  To those of us stuck somewhere in between, our voices come together as we proclaim “Look, God is good!!”

Not because we are naive.  Not because we don’t see the immense suffering and brokenness in our world today.  But because we know that God is with us within it, and working to bring redemption even now.  Not only this, but because He has invited us to join Him in bringing freedom to those who are bound, forgiveness, grace, Love, light, Hope, and by this to bring others to faith that New Creation is coming – and has already been launched.  Not as a “someday” future hope that we can escape all of this.  But as a “right now” hope that it is precisely “this” (whatever “this” is for you) that God is interested in bringing redemption and healing through.  Our celebrations.  Our hurt.  Our confusion.  Our joys.

I pray you’re able to declare “God is good.” this week.  May He reveal His goodness to you, and through you…

 

 

Flight Check…

When I was in High School, I was able to attend “NYC 99” with the Nazarene Church in Toronto, Canada. It was pretty awesome. There were humbling times where a young deaf girl taught me how to play “Simon Says”, & blessed times where I met the woman I would eventually marry (even gave her a rose, only to realize it was her way after we began dating in college!).

In 2003 I was able to join with the worship team of NYC 03 in Texas, to lead over 10,000 teens in worship with Bob Diehm & team. I was just beginning married life after college, and I remember how awesome it was to help lead so many young people into moments of worship and surrender.

Fast forward a few more years, over a decade of youth ministry in the Free Methodist FMYC2017_logo_cChurch and this week I’m flying to Colorado to meet with other FM leaders to plan our next national youth gathering (FMYC) later this July. Teens from all over the US will gather at CSU in Fort Collins, and participate in a short term community life of young worshipers.

I know it can be done wrong. Neuro-chemistry tells me that experiences during our time together will raise levels of dopamine & oxytocin to trigger feelings of addiction and relational bonding. That can be unhealthy, if we’re not pointing such experiences to the realities and Spirit of God.

But if we release all our preparation and direct our desires into the powerful use of the Kingdom – all the neuro-chemistry research could never endeavor to explain or comprehend the ways these moments can be used by God. To build friendships and a familial bond that stretches far beyond superficial topics our young people may stick to on a regular basis. To connect students with a God who wants not only to Love them – but wants to love their family/friends/neighborhood/enemies through them.

As I look at my own experience of having gone through a youth ministry, I’m reminded these things are not finding their “end” in the teens who attend. Our goal is not to build successful events for teens to attend and enjoy. Our “end goal” is seen decades later, as these moments have simply become milestones on a much larger journey of God’s children growing and serving God in their context. As they are transformed, to continue becoming those through whom transformational love of Jesus arrives and is shared/proclaimed.

May we become as relentless as our God’s Love, when we hope, pray, and work toward the changes that can come as we offer who we are to His mission of redemption for all humanity and creation…

 

“Uber” Exciting

This past week, ride-sharing app “Uber” opened up in our city, only to be followed the next day by “Lyft” as well.  Decatur, IL was finally getting “on the map” in a way that seemed to echo finally being included in “Craigslist” a few years before.  Certainly we’re no Chicago, but we are a greater-area population of about 85,000 – and potential for growth as we were also recently identified as #3 most affordable housing market in the WORLD.

uber-redesign-russellwarwickI’m a confessed extrovert, and love meeting new people.  So it wasn’t surprising to my wife when I joked about signing up as an Uber driver, not as a money-making venture, but for fun.  Even after quickly moving through the process, snapping pictures of my documents like insurance and registration, and getting notified I was approved – I didn’t think I’d find myself driving anytime soon.  Although as a pastor there was another layer of appeal.

Fridays are my “day off”, and the rest of my family was occupied at our homeschool co-op.  My wife told me to take the morning to enjoy.  As I sat at Panera, reading the latest edition of Harpers, I flicked the “Online” toggle on my Uber-Driver App, and officially became available.  I figured, it would be fun to give a ride or two, in the midst of my morning coffee.  Ten minutes later, it was obvious Decatur didn’t need many Uber drivers around 9am on a Friday.  Almost an hour in, I realized it wouldn’t be so bad to just spend the morning reading with coffee.

Then it happened.  I don’t even remember much about what the alert looked like. All I could think of was “There might be several Uber drivers getting this same notification, I’d better accept it quickly!”  Boom.  I accepted.  Then I looked at the address.  It wasn’t far, so I loaded up, made sure the radio wasn’t blaring princess music, and began to follow the built-in navigation system within the Uber app.

As I eased my family mini-van into the driveway of a nice quiet neighborhood, a smiling middle-aged man and his wife emerged with two suit-cases.  I quickly asked his name to confirm, though it seemed pretty obvious he was definitely my fare.  I helped load his luggage into my trunk, and opened the door for both he and his wife.  As I started the van, I slid the “Start” button on the Uber app, and asked him where they were headed this morning.  He smiled and said the airport, which I’d kinda anticipated from the luggage.  There was only one issue:

The airport he was talking about was 1.5 hours away in Peoria, IL.

For a brief second, I thought he was joking.  I think he caught my surprise, because he clarified, “You saw that when you agreed, right?”  I looked at my clock, and saw I had just enough time to get there and back before the family came home for lunch.  Why not?  I was honest, however.  Laughing, I confessed I’d not seen it, but it was no problem – let’s go!

He and his wife were very kind, and were in good spirits as they were heading out of town on vacation.  Their flights had been changed last minute, and they decided to try Uber since it had proved useful in previous times of transportation need when they’d visited larger cities.  They even tipped well, although Uber does not require this habit.

Altogether, I enjoyed my coffee and met some new people whom I was able to offer God’s blessings to for their journey ahead, as I dropped them off for their flights.  They’d paid Uber about $75, and I received about $55 of that (plus their gracious tip!).  Probably the most I’ll ever cash in with Uber, since I was just doing it for fun.  I was thankful that their few hours of need happened during my few hours of availability.

I also learned an important lesson: Before you agree to help someone get somewhere, make sure you know where they want to go.  (That’s probably a deep profound truth, eh?)  Next time I’ll make sure I check the request fully, before accepting.  I suppose I could be glad they weren’t heading to an airport in Chicago, or Canada…? lol

Thanks, Uber.  That was fun.  Maybe we’ll do it again someday.

Oh, be quiet Larry…

I remember back in late high school or early college:  There was this short Christian classic on sale or clearance or something and I wanted to get it.  A small part actually wanting to be the kind of person to read such books, and a larger part wanting to seem to be the kind of person to read such books, I snagged it.  I read through it a bit.  I smiled.  I even understood a few sentences.

In college, it was mentioned here and there.  I knew the topic vaguely, and smiled and nodded whenever someone mentioned it in conversation.  Yes, that is quite a good book.  Yes, I do so enjoy practicing the presence of God, just like Brother Lawrence did in “Practicing the Presence of God”.  Whether doing the dishes (as he did) or other menial tasks that my day to day existence brings me, I love the fact that Christ always offers to be very near.  God truly is with us, closer than we often realize.

I was a bit surprised then, when reading the book more closely for my current course on Spiritual Formation, to find so larrymuch in the book I didn’t like.  When the author writes Brother Lawrence (let’s call him Larry) to tell him of a friend who loses a close friend to death, Larry tells him to advise his friend to use these moments to his advantage.  “What a great opportunity to give the part of your heart previously given to your friend back to God where it belongs!”, he seems to say.  Or when the author himself is aging and enduring intense suffering of some sort, Larry refuses to pray his suffering would be taken away.  Instead, Larry insists on praying that God would strengthen the author to endure the suffering that is most likely God’s way of refining his heart and soul.  No, I do not like this guy much at all.  I don’t think I would have written him as much as the author seemed to.  A man who neurotically spent at least 10 years of his life anxious that he shouldn’t be distracted in thought or feeling by anything that might take God’s place, finally ending up with peace (albeit alone, and without much pleasure it would seem beyond the “presence of God”).  No, I do not like this guy much at all.

Yet…I can appreciate his heart.  A heart that yearns for the presence of God so much that everything else – even the extremely important things in life – melt away.  An experience of God’s presence, even in suffering alone, that gives him a sense of complete and udder wholeness that so many empty people in our world are hungry for.

I’ll admit, wrestling with his message comes at a poignant time.  Last week was the final week of Lent.  The season of preparing for Easter.  It was also a week of waiting for an important update in terms of our adoption.  This journey that has taken over 3 years, it finally feels like our boat has spotted land.  So it takes a bit of humility to confess that I, a pastor who was allowed to even baptize several people this morning, was distracted most of my week by checking my e-mail for an update that never came.  That dotting my week of anticipating the resurrection of Jesus Christ, I was experiencing the brokenness of a human whose heart is not at complete peace in this broken world.

Part of me realizes that’s probably okay.   Jesus was certainly not often “at peace” in this world.  Another part of me realizes, there’s something to all this stuff Larry was talking about.

But before you or I go out and leave our family, secluding ourselves in monasteries away from our spouses and children, aiming to live like Larry and push away anything that threatens to occupy a place in our hearts – I don’t think that is required.   But we can be reminded in powerful ways, the truths found in Scriptures like 1 Corinthians 15.  That Jesus died and was resurrected.  The truth of this powerful statement impacts us as individuals, and puts every anxious thought, every deep-seated need/emotion, and every well-intentioned prayer in a wonderfully redemptive context.

The Truth of a resurrected Jesus Christ releases us from serving the state of our situations.  Even though there are times (like this past week, and probably again in the future) we don’t want to hear it, the words of Brother Lawrence come as important reminders: Even really important and good things are not “foundational” the way Christ and His resurrection are.  We can have Peace, even in the midst of needing peace.  That is something the world considers foolish.   That is something scripture considers faith.

That is something my daughters need from their father.  Something my wife needs from her husband.  And so, not as an individual but as a family – we work to shape our heart to seek pleasure only in the things that please God.  We seek to walk with Him as the center of our being.  We confess that this is not an easy road, and we sometimes lose focus.  But we return to this walk and practice – together.

(and really really pray that our boat would draw a big step closer to “land” this week) 🙂

Gratefulness…

Another year’s Christmas-ing has come and gone. All of the Adventing, Jesse-Tree-ing,decorating, and anticipation culminating in a giant smattering of presents to open, meals to enjoy, and time with family/friends. Christ has arrived, and therefore things are incredibly different in God-filled ways.

This year, our girls each received one “large item” from Saint Nick (though I’m pretty sure our oldest is beginning to understand all may not be as it appears). They LOVE their gifts, and proudly announced to the entire church as they walked through the halls that next Sunday morning: “I got a violin!!!” “I got a Kindle!” “I got an iPad!!” I’m sure no one paid any attention, but in my head it was “Oh really? You’re family in the midst of raising funds for an adoption was able to stack up quite a Christmas, eh?”

Not that it’s on me to defend, I will explain because I find it humorous…

Yes, we got a child’s violin for $50 off Craigslist. Yes, we got a “reading only” economy version of a Kindle on E-bay. Yes, we got a VTech play-learning device that Ruby refers to as her “iPad”.  I realize compared to most of the world, we are ridiculously wealthy.

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Nevertheless, I’m really excited how joyful my girls get over “little things”. You should’ve seen how long they spent pouring over the cheap candy in their stockings, even as giant wrapped packages waited under the tree.  I hope and pray we can retain this sense of gratitude even (and especially) as they grow older. Our world certainly is quick to point out things you don’t have, or upgrades you need to make. I’ve been reading Gordie Howe’s autobiography recently, “Mr.Hockey”, and it’s pretty incredible to read how he grew up in a very limited home and time – yet was incredibly thankful for all the things he had.

“Comparison Living” is something that increases more and more with every new social media app that’s invented. Even if we’re aware of it, and try not to be impacted by it, we cannot help but subconsciously be aware of things that exist, that we desire. Things/events other people enjoy, that we’d like to enjoy.

There are enough blogs and books already out there to help you combat this illness, I don’t intend to write long on it today. But as a parent, I want to protect my children from being carried away by this for sure. Which means having “The Talk” about it, even at the ages they currently are. It means helping point out the great things we have to be thankful for, even in the midst of not having something we’ve been praying a couple years for already. It means pointing out what God is doing in and through your family, even when miracles don’t seem to be happening this week.

This flows out and impacts so many areas of life, but begins right here – by developing parental hearts of gratitude. Becoming an adult who recognizes and practices how to be thankful today. My children will learn it best when they see mommy and daddy practicing it regularly. That’s something my wife constantly reminds us of, and seems to have understood long before I did.

So how does thankfulness impact the life you’re living this week? Will you allow a heart made grateful by God to set you free from “comparison living”, at least somewhat? 🙂 The next generation depends on us passing on the rich inheritance of contentedness…

Ministry ramblings…

I’m reminded lately of an important aspect of what it means to offer a life toward service in ministry.  Certainly, ALL are called to participate in the ministry of Christ.  The “Great Commission” found in Matthew 28:16-20 is spoken to all.  We are each invited to participate in the redemptive work and world-transforming love of God, possible through Jesus Christ, empowered by the Holy Spirit.

So why be ordained?  Why offer oneself in this way?  Ordination over-simplified refers to a “setting apart for Gods’ use”, and a “endorsing/empowering/covenanting for ministry” by the Church.  It’s something that involves both the empowering of God, and the affirmation and covenant of the Church.   Years ago, and even in moments today, I would probably stumble through something having to do with feeling a call.  That even from a young age, I felt the tug toward serving the church as a pastor.  But something about that call always rubbed me wrong.  That “rubbing wrong” element has to do with power/prestige attributed to the American pastor in many places.  The “pastor” always seemed to me someone who held a position of authority and power.  He wore a suit and tie, and shook hands firmly, because he ran things on behalf of God.  But in Jesus, we don’t see any desire to move toward power or prestige.  We don’t see him worrying about his image, or chastising his followers if they don’t tie their sandals a certain way.

Over the years, I’ve come to reconcile these things a bit.  Certainly some pastors wear the “power tie”, and suit to match, and carry themselves a bit more proudly than they ought.  But I’ve met so many pastors who have such love for God’s people (not just church members….but ALL people) and desire to serve them in any way possible.  I’ve had opportunity both in college, and more recently at our present church home, to serve under lead pastors who happened to somehow love people sacrificially, AND wear a dapper-looking outfit at the same time.  I joke about the “dapper-ness”, but seriously – it used to bug me with some pastors.  However, as William Willimon writes,

“Those whom we designate as “ministers” are, in the New Testament, “diakonoi”, Paul’s favorite title for Christian leaders, derived from the Greek word for “service”.  Significantly, it is the same word that is the root for “butler” and “waiter,” terms that have greater edge to them than “ministry.”  How odd of the church to designate its leaders by so mundane and lowly a term.  No pastor rises much higher than being a butler. Yet, in the topsy-turvy ethics of the Kingdom, this is as high as anyone rises – a servant of the servants at the Lord’s Table.”  (Pastor: The Theology & Practice of Ordained Ministry)

From this perspective, shoot….give me a coat with tails if needed.  I’ll even have my shoes buffed.  Or I’ll break a jar of expensive perfume and wash the feet of those who come to dine.  Whatever would help.

Pretend there was a large dinner hosted by the United Nations.  All of the important people came to feast, and you were invited to help serve.  What an honor!  What an opportunity!  Now multiply that by as grand a scale as possible, and understand that God has invited ALL His children to come and dine at the Table of the Lord on a regular basis.  To have the privilege to serve at this table…to see the delight as those who’ve pulled up a chair smell the aroma of Christ, as they feast on the goodness of God’s Love and mercy…even if it means you’ve gotta sweep up the crumbs, or help someone with their napkin on occasion….whew.

It’s an odd oxymoron.  Because even as you offer yourself as servant, you are filled with humble honor moving about the dining room (whether empty before the meal, or stained from spilled wine).  Participating in serving a meal provided by God that enables and empowers those who partake, so that they can go out into the world and serve others in the same way.

At this point, I’m probably rambling.  So what are you the reader to take away from all of this?  Your pastor loves you, and wants to serve you more than you might realize.  Come to the table, and enjoy all that God has to offer.  Feel free to burp, even, in compliments to the chef (God….not your pastor.).  If you naturally feel esteem and attribute status to your pastor….stop it. 🙂 He’s honored enough to be in God’s service to the table you dine at.   If you naturally feel pastors are aiming for a prestige not Christ-like, at least offer them the chance to wash your feet.  You may be surprised at how the Love of God is revealed in such moments…

 

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