Mawwage

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Mawwage

“Mawwage is wot bwings us togevva today.”

In our family, today is “Wedding Day”. Tag on a crazier-than-usual week, and the Saturday Six-Pack will be the Sunday Six-Pack this time around.

See you tomorrow!

Saturday Six-Pack (17)

Welcome to the weekend, a prime time for some “Wandering & Wondering”.

This weekend’s Six-Pack features a half-dozen of the best online bits I’ve read recently: About faith, about ministry, about who-knows-what.

If you need help prioritizing, note my two “Picks of the Week”, and roll on from there.

In this edition:

1) Winged Enemies
Each Sunday, Skye Jethani‘s four-year-old daughter warns the family, “We’re going to church. Watch out for poop.”  And with that introduction, I suggest you go read the rest of this article on spiritual warfare.

2) Risky Sex
Talk of “safe sex” is foolishness, according to Michael Hidalgo.  Even more, if it DID exist, who would want it?  Risky sex is where it’s at! **PICK OF THE WEEK**

3) Unequally Yoked
That is the new blog title of Leah Libresco, a prominent atheist blogger in some circles, who recently caused ripples with her post, “This is my last post for the Patheos Atheist Portal”.  In it, she briefly recounts her gradual conversion to Catholicism.  A summary by Scot McKnight can be read HERE, and Google can quickly provide you with more than a pile of responses and replies.

4) Why Smart People are Stupid
The New Yorker presented this piece on how your smartness may actually work against you.

5) It’s Not About the Dream
VeggieTales creator Phil Vischer turns to a jellyfish for new inspiration, new ventures, and a new way of doing business.  This is the story behind the man, behind Larry the Cucumber and Bob the Tomato, and it involves more convicting and repenting than you might expect.

6) Are You a Saint or a Scorpion
The memorable fable drives home a great point… or several! **PICK OF THE WEEK**

Enjoy your weekend, friends, through renewing yourself and reverencing God.

Miraculously Natural

With three daughters under the age of four, I have read “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” more times than the average man. For the uninformed, this is the tale of caterpillar who breaks free from his egg with a serious hunger. After five days of colourfully-sketched fruit, he goes on a dietary tear, eating his way through desserts and delicacies, meats and treats. A stomachache lands him back at a green leaf feast. By this time, our tiny protagonist has become a pudgy worm on the verge of cocooning. The finale of the book begins on the second-last page:

Then he nibbled a hole in the cocoon, pushed his way out, and… (final page turn here)

He was a beautiful butterfly!

 

[The story can be viewed HERE, if you wish.]

A colourful story of how worms become butterflies, this children’s book has yet to educate me on what really happens.  How does a slinking and slimy caterpillar become a soaring and stunning butterfly?  What magical tailor lives in that cocoon to design, craft, and attach those wings to that thing?

It is no error that we use the word metamorphosis to describe this process:

A change of the form or nature of a thing or person into a completely different one, by natural or supernatural means.

No exaggeration is necessary to tie the term “miracle” to such a definition, yet the reminder quickly follows: “This is natural.”

Miraculously natural.

A paradoxical phrase. Continue reading

Tuesday Trick: Eliminating Um’s and Uh’s

Everyone has patterns, habits, and idiosyncracies.  In the realm of public speaking, these can cause everything from minor discomfort to compromised clarity.

Today, Lifehacker’s Thorin Klosowski shares one simple move toward eliminating those useless fillers that clutter up communication.

 

Brokenness Aside

My Twitter feed served up this devotional based on the song “Brokenness Aside” by All Sons & Daughters.  I only skimmed the article, but I have soaked in the song on numerous occasions.  Inspired by the concept, I offer the following reflections birthed from this artful piece of worship.

These touching lyrics are below, and if the song is unknown to you, then THIS will help you “feel it”.

Brokenness Aside
Leslie Jordan and David Leonard

Will your grace run out
If I let you down
‘Cause all I know
Is how to run

‘Cause I am a sinner
If it’s not one thing its another
Caught up in words
Tangled in lies
You are the Savior
And you take brokenness aside
And make it beautiful
Beautiful

Will you call me child
When I tell you lies
Cause all I know
Is how to cry

CHORUS

“Will your grace run out if I let you down?  ‘Cause all I know is how to run.”

I lived in a state of fear for years, certain that God’s nature must be as fickle as mine.  In my finest moments, perhaps I am courageously consistent, steadily stepping toward God.  But how few are my finest moments!  The vast majority of moments involve failure to meet even my own lax standards, let alone the brilliantly holy nature of the One Without Beginning or End.  Wearied myself by my inconsistency and unfaithfulness, it seemed only logical to conclude that God must sigh an exhausted sigh every time I returned in need-filled prayer.  Stumbling the same path repeatedly was furiously frustrating to me, yet apparently it was not frustrating enough, as I was apt to be there again the next day.  Every taste of personal disappointment worked to foster in me a belief that God’s dominant emotion toward me must be, at best, an obligated kindness.  I mean, I would be frustrated enough to give up on such weakness.  Surely God would too.

How pleasant to be woefully wrong about Him!

Will you call me child when I tell you lies? ‘Cause all I know Is how to cry.”

What a joy to sense God speaking over me as “His son”.  The acceptance of the Father is staggeringly hard to accept.  Truthfulness is so foreign to our crooked-to-the-core natures.  Love freely given makes a mockery of the merit-based systems that we so proudly function within.  Surely God cannot maintain His affection and commitment toward children so quick to compromise, so prone to wander.  And yet, PRAISE GOD, He does, for His faithfulness is based upon the integrity of His being rather than than the fragmented states of the rest of us.

And that is indeed very Good News.

‘Cause I am a sinner
If it’s not one thing its another
Caught up in words
Tangled in lies
You are the Savior
And you take brokenness aside
And make it beautiful
Beautiful

The distortion runs deep within us.  The moment we shore up one gap, we create another.  There is simply not enough wholeness within us to cover up our brokenness, not enough fabric to hide the nakedness.  Yet God, the Abundant One, wades into the depths of our deception, cuts the cords that bind, and miraculously brings beauty from ashes.  From Genesis 1 onward, the Spirit of God hovers over formless voids of darkness, shaping them into conditions that sustain thriving and God-honouring life.  There is One striving to work such wonders in every life today, and Yahweh is His name.  You can be certain that He is hovering over life as you know it today.

If you haven’t yet heard “Brokenness Aside”, then let your soul be fed by clicking below.

Peace on you today, my friends.

Saturday Six-Pack (16)

Welcome to the weekend.  Time again for some “Wandering & Wondering”.

Today’s Six-Pack features some of the best faith-focused and ministry-minded online pieces that have crossed my path recently.

In case six pieces is too daunting, skim the summaries and look for my two “Picks of the Week”.

In this edition:

1) The Mystery of a Lost Generation
The internetmonk Jeff Dunn has provided a beautiful piece here, weaving together a commentary on a couple recent CNN articles and a review of the latest album by Rush to communicate the truths of love and mystery that reside in God.  Well worth the read! **PICK OF THE WEEK**

2) 7 Objections to Going to Seminary
Justin Taylor scrapes the surface of an article by John Frame, entitled, “Learning at Jesus’ Feet: A Case for Seminary Training”.  As a graduate of such a school, I can attest to both the struggle and the value of the experience.

3) Am I Prone to Wander?
The classic hymn “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” has raised more than a few modern eyebrows with its talk of Ebenezer-raising.  However, Tim Challies would rather focus on another line.

4) America’s Premier Heresy
Scot McKnight is hitting the nail squarely in this piece.  He’s even naming names!  Read Revelation 2-3 and then this piece, and tell me if you think any of this material would be in the letter that Jesus would compose to your church today.  **PICK OF THE WEEK**

5) Dancing on the Edge of Finished
If you’ve ever felt like the “to do” list never ends, as if you can never achieve that peaceful satisfaction of “arriving”, then Seth Godin would like your attention for sixty seconds.

6) 17 Manly Quotes for Father’s Day
Take my wife’s favourite number, put a man-related quote beside each digit, and you’d get this list just in time for Father’s Day.

That’s all for now.  Enjoy your weekend, friends, through renewing yourself and reverencing God.

A Pastor’s Private Thoughts

I enjoy my church.

I also enjoy vacations.

I especially enjoy going to church while on vacation. For this pastor, there is a particular pleasure to attending a service as a guest. Trading my pastor’s hat for my participant’s hat often serves up fresh experiences within a worship assembly.

There is a shallower level of experience too. It is the comparing and contrasting of how “church is done” in this new setting versus my home congregation.  This includes styles, logistics, tradition, and such.  A recent such experience was unusually impacting, moving dramatically beyond such mental note-taking of operational details from an unfamiliar venue. Such casual observation is typically comfortable and harmless.  But God was waiting for me on this particular day at this particular church, and neither comfort nor harmlessness was on the menu.

Imagine my shock when the path to God led through Satan’s playground.

All was normal for an abnormal Sunday.  My children were settled in alongside unfamiliar tots in a children’s service, my sermon was not waiting to be preached, and I was seated beside my wife with no duties to fulfill up front. We sang, we read, we prayed, we listened.

And one of us got to wondering.

This particular church was booming.

The website had described a few years of existence with rapid growth from tiny church plant to multiple building projects, one of which we had witnessed in the parking lot. A sense of optimism was evident. Life appeared to be flowing here. A casual observer like myself picked up an obvious focus and excellence within the structures and ministries supporting the congregation.

The truly marvelous thing about thought is its speed, isn’t it?  Nearly instantly, a process of private assessment regarding this church was unleashed, involving hundreds of thoughts within a second. “Speed kills” is nowhere more true than in my own head. It was the speed of the thoughts and the unforeseen, though quickly approaching, corner that blew my wheels off.

Don’t misunderstand: There is something quite natural about a pastor gauging a given church environment. We swim in such details everyday. We are always hunting for ideas, critiquing our status quo, aspiring toward better. Much of this is normal, like a mechanic intrigued by cars or a retail manager wanting to peek in shops’ back rooms.

But normal can mutate.

It does everyday. And when it does, it brings dysfunction and death.

Listening to Scripture proclaimed in a sermon can quickly become a thumbs-fest with Roger Ebert. Mark it down: Many pastors have a horrible time listening (I mean, genuinely listening) to preaching. Their time spent “behind the curtain” often robs them of the simple pleasure and power that can arrive with the Word of God falling like rain.

An entire worship service can become a wrestling match. Despite efforts to stifle this critic’s posture, judgments are snapped, assessments are made, variations are noted, and the one fatal worship-hijacking act is committed.

Comparisons are drawn.

Reasons to avoid this deadly movement are plentiful. You know them. I know them.

But still my mind embarked on the journey, innocently at first:

This is a sweet little church.

I could imagine attending a place like this if I lived here.

What is behind that positive feeling I have toward a place that I hardly know?

I wonder what tone people perceive when they visit my church.  What feeling do we give off?

That building project is impressive. People are obviously invested to make that happen.

They sure are dreaming of how they can impact their community.

Some of the staff sure strike me as impressive.

I wonder where they trained. How did they become “who they are”?

What would it feel like to work on a large staff?

I wonder if I could even qualify to work in such a setting.

It sure is great to see a church that is growing.

I wonder how they’re doing it.

I hope they’re not watering anything down.

My church hasn’t grown in years.

In fact, it’s shrunk during my time there.

I wonder how we are doing it.

I wonder how I am doing it.

That was where the pit really began to develop.  It’s slopes were subtle but steep.

Our family vacation was filled with fun. The pace was relaxed, the weather was pleasant. We walked and shopped. We played and ate. We lingered and toured. It was a perfect holiday for two parents and two small ones.

And I was present for most of it.

There was just a sliver of me that lived in that hole by himself.

He couldn’t get free of Sunday’s stream:

Why is my church shrinking?

Why do we seem stuck?

What is different about our church “culture” from those that appear to be thriving?

Can a church’s culture be changed?

Am I a part of the problem?

What if I am holding the church back?

Do we even want to grow?

Do I?

What our church really needs may be several things that I am not. 

What do I do with that?

How am I such a poor leader?

You’re making this too much about yourself.  It is God who brings the growth.

That is true, but what is keeping Him from bringing it our way?

Are we destined for nothing nobler than a slow decline?

Surely we are.

How do we get there?

Do I even know?

Sigh.

Comparison is a killer. I knew that, but I confess that I could not free myself from those jaws.   Eventually, the grip released, and I pulled myself home to lick my wounds.

And now six months later, I’m still licking.  The place of grace?

God found me on that tangent of a trail.  Satan may have queued the confusion and envy, but the inner turmoil led me a God who had a number more questions for me:

Do you think this is about you?

You think real fruit can be grown by your groans?

What is the place of your best-but-insufficient efforts in the building of my Kingdom?

Do you believe that I can make you into exactly what you need to be: You as a pastor, and your congregation as a church?

As has become my nearly standard experience of God, the message was astoundingly accurate in its tone: It was completely convicting and entirely encouraging (well, almost entirely).

When God met Jacob unexpectedly one night (see Genesis 32), Jacob departed the next morning with a lasting limp.

Over the past two years, I have felt a number of moves from God’s grappling arsenal.  He is amply able to get a hold on me, to confront with perfectly balanced fierceness and affection.

Along the way, a limp has certainly developed.  But I have a growing awareness that walking strong and straight was never all it was cracked up to be.  Divine strength flexes most mightily in human weakness.  Resurrection power only flows through the collapsed vessels of corpses.

Fruitful

The Hearts of Our Shepherds

Sunday’s service at our church featured an interview with our Shepherds (elders) in place of the usual sermon.

“The Hearts of Our Shepherds,” was aimed at providing opportunity for these men to share some of the themes dominating recent meetings, along with some of the more personal desires and prayers that each of them hold for our congregation.

By all counts, it was meaningful.

The interview closed with me asking each Shepherd what we, his church family, could pray for on his behalf. These men of God offered responses like wisdom and clarity, opportunities for greater influence with non-Christian friends, renewal within our church family, and significant personal spiritual growth.

Prior to praying, one Shepherd turned the question back toward me.

What could the church that I serve pray for me?

Springboarding off of a few of the Shepherds’ ideas, I described the burden that exists within leadership. There is a pressure involved in the awareness that many look to me for direction or inspiration or steadiness. Many times, however, I aim to provide these, with less confidence than I wish in my own abilities, focus, or strength.  It feels like the job could always be done better.

Even as I spoke these words, I was seeing in the congregation educators, healthcare workers, managers, social workers, financiers, and more. I felt a measure of guilt as my eyes beheld them and my mouth shared those words, as if I were suggesting that my role of leadership was “so important” that I needed extra support to bear it, as if I faced unique challenges that require unusual backing.  No such sentiment existed within me, but something that I couldn’t identify rubbed inside me in that moment.

Reflecting later, I found myself considering my ministry role in terms of task lists and skill sets.  All those people I’d noted have their own similar loads to carry within their own roles, and they aim to possess highly developed skills and to execute their tasks with integrity and excellence that demand discipline and focus.  Of course, I regularly set myself toward such goals within my job too, but it dawned on me that this was not at the heart of my prayer request.

So what was?

Queue up our weekly Small Group.

That evening’s text for discussion was John 15:1-11. After our usual “telling of the story”, we zoomed in on the text by using JB Phillips’ paraphrase:

1-8 “I am the real vine, my Father is the vine-dresser. He removes any of my branches which are not bearing fruit and he prunes every branch that does bear fruit to increase its yield. Now, you have already been pruned by my words. You must go on growing in me and I will grow in you. For just as the branch cannot bear any fruit unless it shares the life of the vine, so you can produce nothing unless you go on growing in me. I am the vine itself, you are the branches. It is the man who shares my life and whose life I share who proves fruitful. For the plain fact is that apart from me you can do nothing at all. The man who does not share my life is like a branch that is broken off and withers away. He becomes just like the dry sticks that men pick up and use for the firewood. But if you live your life in me, and my words live in your hearts, you can ask for whatever you like and it will come true for you. This is how my Father will be glorified—in your becoming fruitful and being my disciples.

9-11 “I have loved you just as the Father has loved me. You must go on living in my love. If you keep my commandments you will live in my love just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and live in his love. I have told you this so that you can share my joy, and that your happiness may be complete.

In sharing the portions of that text that spoke most personally to us, one group member noted that the first eight verses are heavily metaphorical, except for one blatant-as-can-be line:

For the plain fact is that apart from me you can do nothing at all.

And that quick comment decoded my earlier thoughts.

In any role, there are skills to be had and honed. Effort and excellence, organization and output–these are all relevant to discussions of successful leadership and efficient productivity, and I find myself intrigued and interested by such dialog.

But in matters of lasting fruitfulness, the type which ripples through eternity, an infinitely higher concern is connection to Jesus.

Is our connection to him substantial enough that his life flows through us?

That is the only question needing an answer and the only goal requiring a pursuit.

If it is, then the possibilities for life-giving impact on our world are as vast as God Himself. Anything less shrinks life to where the best I can hope for is an appearance of success, suggested by personal pleasure perceived or social recognition received.  An anonymous quote I read said, “Without Jesus, one can be certainly be successful.  But being fruitful is another thing altogether.”

I think that is the rub I felt on Sunday, and if I could rephrase my clumsy prayer request to be more accurate, that’s what I’d say:

Pray that I so connect with Jesus that His life flows freely through me, bearing much fruit.

Amen to that.

Tuesday Trick: Preaching Christ from the Old Testament

 

In a change-up that would cause envy in any MLB pitcher, today’s Tuesday Trick detours a million miles from the typical tidbits about productivity or technology, all the way to the realm of biblical preaching.

From the Gospel Coalition comes this brief (maybe 10 minutes) interview with Owen Strachan, professor of theology and church history at Boyce College, on the challenge but importance of preaching Jesus Christ from the Old Testament.  How does one do it, while being faithful to the context and message unique to the Old Testament period and writings, while allowing Jesus to be the interpretive lens, the Logos, for God’s entire Story?

To the pastors out there, if you’ve ever wondered how to faithfully preach Christ from the three-quarters of Scripture that aren’t blatantly zoomed in on him, then THIS may be helpful.

 

Saturday Six-Pack (15)

Welcome to the weekend, and thanks for spending some time “Wandering & Wondering”.

This week’s Six-Pack features the usual: A half-dozen of the best articles I’ve read this week–mostly faith-focused or ministry-geared, with a bit of who-knows-what tossed in!

This week’s load:

1) Good News VS Good Advice
The Gospel is only one of these, and it is amazingly easy to get this mixed up.

2) Four Results of Christ’s Ascension
A couple years back, a friend called.  He had been assigned to preach a sermon about the significance of Christ’s Ascension.  We both agreed that we’d heard much about Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection, but somehow the Ascension had always been treated as something of an assumed afterthought.  If I could go back, I might at least send him to this piece as a starter.

3) Why Do Christians Need to Make it All Better?
Many believers rush through pain to get to the hope. But is that the best way?

4) Fake Love, Fake War: Why So Many Men Are Addicted to Internet Porn and Video Games
I’ve seen at least a few articles recently based on this same pile of research.  This is some insightful stuff on what makes men tick AND why these two counterfeits are so dangerous in how they impact those who consume them.

5) The Story of Send
Ever wonder what happens to your email after you hit the “Send” button? If so, you might be interested by this entry from Google Green.  Ironically, following the story takes far longer than actually sending and receiving an email in the first place, but it’s a pretty entertaining way to learn something new.

6) How Mosquitoes Survive Collisions with Raindrops
Mosquito to raindrop equals person to school bus.  How would you deal with such mid-air meetings if you could fly?  Should that ever be useful information, this post is for you.  For the rest of us, it’s just for fascination’s sake.

Enjoy your weekend, friends, through renewing yourself and reverencing God.