Monday, December 8, 2008

Christmas Presence Video

video

Click 4(above) to see video*

Click here to add your ideas for a more meaningful Christmas on the St. James website.

*video adapted from adventconspiracy.org

What do you think? Please click "Comments" 6 to leave yours.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Anticipating Christmas

I am finding myself deeply moved, challenged, and stirred by the baby of an unwed mother living in poverty in a rural, isolated, back-water town. Isn’t that what Christmas is all about? Isn’t that where and how the God of the universe showed up?

It may not be what you think. A couple weeks ago our family sponsored Theresia through Compassion International. Theresia lives with her mom and two siblings in an impoverished rural AIDS-infected area of Tanzania. She will be five in early January. She is precious and important beyond what she has any way of knowing. She is loved.

Predictions are picking up in the media about how dismal this Christmas season will be. The defining measurements are consumer spending and credit availability. Maybe especially because of this year’s economic challenges, Theresia’s influence on my heart helps to put it all in perspective.

The little town of Bethlehem was buzzing in a flurry of activity on that first Christmas. People were traveling great distances to be there. Inns were filling up. There were family reunions and festive parties. All of those pouring into that otherwise sleepy little town were there to fulfill the obligation to show up (Luke 2:1-3). It was all good. Other than hints in Biblical prophesy (e.g. Micah 5:2), they had no way of knowing why they were really there, what was really happening and the meaning of what they were missing. They were so close to it! In all the flurry of activity, in the least likely of places, God showed up.

That’s what hits me every time I walk past Theresia’s picture on our refrigerator. I want to pick her up and give her a hug. Her eyes, life, and new found place in our family provide ballast for my heart. God is using her to stir me to want to serve more and to care more. He is using her to help reorient my heart. I don’t want to miss why we are really here, what is really happening and the meaning of what we are really celebrating. I can be so close. Mother Teresa once said “It’s the greatest poverty to decide that a child must die so that you may live as you wish.” Her words are hard; but that is her point. Jesus said “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40).

Interestingly, Theresia’s full name means “little harvester.” God is using Compassion to reach her with His unfathomable love by showing up in the least likely of places, as the world measures things. Half way around the world, Jesus is showing up to harvest my heart through this baby of an unwed mother living in poverty in a rural, isolated, back-water town. Isn’t that what Christmas is all about? That’s where and how the God of the universe shows up.

What do you think? Please click "Comments" 6 to leave yours.

Monday, September 22, 2008

I've Never Noticed That Before

Ever had one of those “I’ve never noticed that before” moments? You drive down a street you have traveled hundreds of times and see a building decades old that seemed to appear overnight. You discover a new feature in something you own that was standard equipment when you bought it. You admire a painting on a wall that has tied the room together for years. A new freckle is discovered on your spouse they swear was there when they were born. I’ll stop the examples there. It frequently happens to me. I think I must miss a lot.

That moment of surprise and discovery happens often for me with the Bible. It did again this week when I was preparing for the privilege of issuing the ordination charge to Dr. Rick Hess, professor of Old Testament at Denver Seminary. I was traveling through that familiar dramatic passage in 1 Samuel 3. Most of my attention usually goes to the powerful drama of Samuel hearing God’s voice and not recognizing it. I am inspired when Eli mentors him to respond: “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.” Suspense heightens when God speaks to an attentive Samuel and gave him visions that changed his life and the world around him. It is all so inspiring and powerful. It is what every destiny-shaped heart longs for.

The dramatic and familiar can easily distract, or at least monopolize our attention. An exquisite black and white Ansel Adams image might be missed if hung next to the explosive color of a Picasso painting. Verse one became like an Ansel Adams hanging next to the Picasso-colored events of the passage.

“In those days the word of the Lord was rare; there were not many visions.”
1 Samuel 3:1
The call of God on an individual and community is always unique and contextual. It is always intensely personal and unapologetically Missional. Samuel’s call began with a powerful statement about the context of his call.

“In those days the word of the Lord was rare; there were not many visions.”

The implication is clear: where the word of the Lord is plentiful, visions abound. People see with new eyes and are compelled to respond in ways they would otherwise have never envisioned.

God’s Word was never meant to be a book of religious regulations or a record to preserve or imprison people in the past. The Word of God bears witness and calls people to the creative and redemptive nature, character and purposes of God. Genesis begins with creation out of God’s Word. Revelation ends with the new creation. In between is the unfolding, never-stagnant, always dynamic narrative of God’s call on His people to live the Kingdom vision for the sake of all nations. Even when they were uprooted and displaced in exile, God called His people to His Word-inspired vision:

This is what God the Lord says—
he who created the heavens and
stretched them out,
who spread out the earth with all that springs from it,
who gives breath to its people,
and life to those who walk on it:
“I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness;
I will take hold of
your hand.
I will keep you and will make you
to be a covenant for the
people
and a light for the Gentiles,
to open eyes that are blind,
to free captives from prison
and to release from the dungeon those who
sit in darkness.
“I am the Lord; that is my name!
I will not yield my
glory to another
or my praise to idols.
See, the former things have
taken place,
and new things I declare;
before they spring into being
I announce them to you.”

Isaiah 42:5-9


Jesus’ arrival, life, teaching, death, resurrection and ascension were all rooted in His preoccupation with the Kingdom of God. It is also what the Spirit’s arrival at Pentecost was all about - fulfilling the promise that old people will dream dreams and young people will see new visions of God’s unfolding redemption.

In these days, the word of the Lord is rare; and there are not many visions.

Inside the church, there is an all-to-common preoccupation with survival by trying to polish old visions. Outside the church, the word of the Lord is rare, leaving a vacuum filled by false idols, promises and forms of security. The breaking news stories and bold headlines of the last week announce the repercussions of their failure to deliver.

In these days, the word of the Lord is rare; and there are not many visions.

How are we rooting ourselves in God’s Word in a way that moves beyond information to transformation through Word-inspired visions? How are we engaging God’s Word in a way that compels our best dreams for when we are most fully awake? How attentive are we to God’s voice that His Word is frequent and His visions are plentiful?

God’s call on each of our lives, and all of us together is urgent, personal and unapologetically Missional. It is to live out His Word-inspired visions in such a way that a watching desperate world might sit up, take notice and say:

“I’ve never noticed that before.”

What do you think? Please click "Comments" 6 to leave yours.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

OK Colorado (Rockies Theme Song)

video

Hi Everyone,

I am getting requests for Ryan and Kyle’s new Colorado Rockies song “OK Colorado.” It’s getting a lot of attention. The Rockies flagship radio station (KOA) got a hold of it last week and called Ryan and Kyle in to be interviewed for their Baseball This Week program. They received word this week that Coors Field will begin using it during home games! Its pretty catchy!

Click Play (4) above to listen. Enjoy!

Go Rockies!

What do you think? Please click "Comments" 6 to leave yours.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Greater Things



God in This City - Chris Tomlin

15I am the Lord, your Holy One,
Israel’s Creator, your King.”

16This is what the Lord says—
he who made a way through
the sea,
a path through the mighty waters,
17who drew out the chariots
and horses, the army and reinforcements together,
and they lay there, never to rise again,
extinguished, snuffed out like a wick:


18“Forget the former things;
do not dwell on the past.
19 See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland.
20The wild animals honor me,
the jackals and the owls,
because I provide water in the
wilderness and streams in the wasteland,
to give drink to my people, my chosen,
21 the people I formed for myself that they may proclaim my
praise.

Isaiah 43:15-21 (TNIV)


What do you think? Please click "Comments" 6 to leave yours.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Great Finishes

We love great finishes. Every starting line exists for a finish line.

The Olympics begin today. The opening ceremonies capture the collective attention, imagination and breath of the world. It is exponentially true for the athletes gathered to compete. The intensity and adrenaline they feel at the beginning of the Olympics are directly related to anticipating the finish lines they will face in the days ahead. Races are ultimately decided at the finish line, sometimes by thousandths of seconds. It is the moment they have prepared and sacrificed for.


Life too is ultimately defined at the finish line. Randy Pausch was a professor at Carnegie Mellon diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He received a lot of attention in the months preceding his death last Friday for his “last lecture” (see below). With amazing poise and clarity, he laid out the core convictions of his life as he approached its earthly finish. Noel Tichy in his book The Leadership Engine calls personal core convictions Teachable Points of View (TPOV). We teach and communicate them through the content of our lives. There is something about an approaching finish line that gives heightened clarity to what matters.


The Apostle Paul was clear about his TPOVs and finish line. Near the finish of his life he wrote:


I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing. 1 Timothy 4:7-8

Jesus had the same kind of clarity and focus. “My food,” Jesus said when mentoring his friends and followers in his TPOVs, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work” (John 4:34). Approaching the finish line he prayed:

Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began. John 17:1-5

Hours later, as he crossed the finish line for the sake of the world, “Jesus said, ‘It is finished.’ With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit (John 19:30).


What does the finish line look like for you? When you cross it, will you find yourself at the end of the race you meant to run? Jesus said it matters. The good news is this moment can be a new starting line in your life. The prize is far better than a wreath of leaves or even a gold plated medal. Jesus promises it is gift of looking the God of Creation in the eyes and hearing His voice say ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful … Come and share your master’s happiness!” (Matthew 25:21 and 23).


Every starting line exists for a finish line. We love great finishes.





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Friday, May 30, 2008

The Great Outdoor Adventure

Summer is an amazing season in Colorado. The sky is breath-taking all day long, from the sunrise, to the crisp mid-day blue sky with spectacular white cloud formations, to the sunsets and vast starlit nights. The colors of trees and other plant life seem more vivid. The appearances and sounds of wildlife are everywhere. One of my colleagues on staff showed me a photo yesterday of two mountain lions drinking water out of a neighbor’s baby pool in their backyard. Blue heron, hawk and eagle regularly fly over our house. The nearby mountains beckon with all their beauty, majesty and grandeur. The air has a crisp freshness. The sun is warm and feels a mile closer than anywhere we have ever lived. All of it calls me outdoors. There are great adventures to experience and discover!

It is hard for me to be inside in the summer. Given the choice, I find someplace outside to study, read, prepare sermons and even to write a blog. (As I write this on my back patio, a hawk is circling overhead. Amazing!) When driving to an appointment, my windows are down. BBQs, afternoon hikes, bike rides, golf outings, camping and other excursions are on the rise. If I have to be inside, the outside door is often open. It is almost like all creation outside declares the glory of God and shouts “how can you stay inside at a moment like this?”

It is a question hard to argue with. I suppose one could try by saying it is safer inside. There are mountain lions out there! The intensity of the sun’s rays pose a constant threat. The altitude presents its hydration, respiratory and cardio challenges. You also never know who or what you might encounter “out there.” Maybe it’s better to stay inside and turn on the Nature or National Geographic channel. It’s amazing what you can discover in high definition from the comfort and safety of our own living rooms!

My cheek is beginning to hurt from the pressure of my tongue in it. Real threats need to be recognized and addressed. For most, however, they are no reason to stay inside. Two dimensional images even with high definition three-dimensional appearances are no match for the view, touch, smells and personal encounters of reality.

(There are obviously good and appropriate times to be inside. Privacy, access to necessary facilities and other reasons make times of being inside also important. For example, what can match the feeling of a family around the Thanksgiving dinner table or the romance of indoor intimacy with a spouse? There are wonderful times to be inside.)

There is something inside us made to be outside. We can get distracted by all the demands around us and miss the surrounding beauty that beckons us. I once met a guy who worked for the National Park Service who worked inside every day. It had the irony of a gas truck sputtering to a stop on the side of a road because its own gas tank ran out of fuel. God’s first command to Adam was to enjoy and take care of His creation (Genesis 2:15). All he knew was being outside.

Beyond the environmental implications, all of this makes me wonder what it means to be God’s people in the world. From the very beginning, God called Abram and his clan to have a special relationship with God.

The LORD had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. …All peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”

Genesis 12:1-3

At the very heart of what it meant to be God’s special people was to be out-going (not to be confused with extroversion). Ironically, for Israel in the Old Testament and for God’s people today, there has been a preoccupation with being “inside.” For example, many “religious” people have gone to great lengths to define who is on the “inside” and who is not. Sabbath and dietary laws were an example in the Old Testament. They became visual determinants for who was in and who was not by whether or not the laws were observed. Jesus kept getting heat for breaking the insider rules by going outside to connect with people on the Sabbath. We have our own insider versions today.

Doctrinal and other clarifiers are important. However, the church’s preoccupation with inside language, definers and battles has kept us from our primary calling to get outside. This has been true for congregations and denominations. I wonder if we sometimes hide behind our insider issues as an excuse to keep us from the more difficult and important task of getting outside. Like a park service employee who spends all of his time inside, we miss the primacy of the very reason we exist. Meanwhile, the yearnings, languages and needs of the world around us have changed. The church’s previous maps and languages no longer relate. We stand inside trying to get others to come in. Their understandable question is: why? Two dimensional spirituality even with high definition three-dimensional appearances doesn’t compare with the view, touch, smells and personal encounters of reality.

It can be scary for insiders to go outside. That’s why we sometimes call our worship places sanctuaries, right? There are mountain lions outside (1 Peter 5:8-9)! The intensity of resistance can be a constant threat. You never know who or what you might encounter “out there.” Maybe it’s better to stay inside. Certainly we can control things more, even if what we control becomes irrelevant to the world Jesus died for. It’s amazing what we can experience in the comfort and safety of our own living rooms!

Again, my cheek is experiencing the pressure of my tongue. Real threats need to be recognized and addressed. For most, however, they are not only a reason not to stay inside – but the very reason God sends His people out. It is who we are and why we exist. Jesus relates to people where they live "out there." Jesus’ life relates to the deepest yearnings of the human heart! There is a marvelous inspirational challenge in the Presbyterian Church’s Book of Order that reminds us that:

The Church is called to undertake this mission even at the risk of losing its life, trusting in God alone as the author and giver of life, sharing the gospel, and doing those deeds in the world that point beyond themselves to the new reality in Christ.

Book of Order, 3.0400

There is something inside us made to be outside. It is where we discover our identity, our faith, our life, our purpose and the power of God. Most of what churches do inside need little help from above. As mentioned, there are obviously good and important times to be inside. The book of Acts however tells us that even the “inside” life of the church is to have a profound impact on those outside – Acts 2:42-47.

The death and resurrection of Jesus is the central event of human history. Through it, God not only redeemed the world from sin, but redeemed God’s people for their purpose. The resurrected Jesus reinstituted his defining call on God’s people when He said:

All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.

Matthew 28:18-20.

It is almost like all creation declares the glory of God and shouts “how can you stay inside at a moment like this?” There are great outdoor adventures to discover and experience.

What do you think? Please click "Comments" 6 to leave yours.

Monday, March 3, 2008

What If?


What if…?

Let your imagination run wild. How would you finish the question ... What if?

The first thought that comes to your mind might be something personal like:

  • What if I had someone who loved me?
  • What if I had more money?
  • What if I painted my house?

It might be something that feels more whimsical, like:

  • What if we could fly (without an airplane)?
  • What if coffee and gas were both less than a buck?
  • What if Superman wore Jack Bauer pajamas?

Your what if question might be something more cosmic like:

  • What if God did not exist … or did exist?
  • What if there was no hunger or poverty?
  • What if there was a cure to cancer or AIDS?

The band Coldplay asks

what if there was no light, nothing wrong, nothing right? What if there was no time and no reason or rhyme?
To dream, to wonder, and to imagine is part of what makes us human. Whatever your question or dream might be, let it be something.

Many consider the definitive song of John Lennon's life to be his invitation for the world to imagine. Before he was shot, he wondered outloud:


Imagine there's no countries, it isn't hard to do, nothing to kill or die for, and no religion too. Imagine all the people, living in peace.
The imaginations of regular people change the world. There was an unknown farm boy who, of all things, liked to draw. His name was Walt Disney. There were the dreams of a young man who grew up in the segregation of inner-city Atlanta named Martin King. There is the constant wondering of a nerd who began by tinkering in the garage. His name is Bill Gates. The stories go on and on. Most amazing, there is you and me.

What question would you ask? What if …?

I wonder, what if we started inviting people to ask the question, what if? What if we began dreaming together about what could be, and what might happen if it was? We are collecting questions and need your help. Let’s have fun with this. Would you:
  1. Take a moment now and over the next couple weeks to write what if questions? What immediately comes to your mind? Jot down any questions that jump out to you. Brainstorming is fun because anything is allowable. If it comes to mind, write it down. Don’t judge or evaluate it. Let’s collect as many ideas as possible. Click the “Comments” link below to add your ideas right now. I also encourage you to continue to think about it and come back to add more. You have the option of remaining anonymous if you like. Please don’t be shy. Go for it! It’s good for the soul.

  2. Send this link to as many of your friends to invite them to brainstorm with us. The sky is the limit. Let’s start a dreaming movement. It doesn’t matter what a person’s background is, where they live or what their spiritual beliefs are. Let’s make the imagination as global as possible. Simply e-mail your friends and ask them to imagine with us by clicking the link What If .... to add their questions to the collection!
Someone once wrote that God
is able to do immeasurably more than all we can ask or imagine according to his power that is at work within us (Ephesians 3:20).
I am inspired by these words because they invite us to imagine. Too many people hesitate to wonder and dream. These words not only kindle imagination, they tell us we reflect God’s image when we do. They tell us that God begins where the height of our imaginations leave off. When that happens, the world changes.

What if?

Click below to leave your What If questions 6 or comments.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Living A Caucus Life

My wife and I showed up excited to vote. It was presidential caucus day in Colorado, our first since moving to the state. We met after work and arrived at 4:00 in the afternoon. We were surprised to be greeted by signs: Caucus Tonight 7:00.

We were used to primaries. Stay with me on this. At primaries a person shows up at a convenient time during the day, steps into the privacy of a voting booth, casts their secret ballot and leaves having fulfilled their civic duty. It is an important, furtive, private affair.

Caucuses are different. Rather than individuals showing up at a convenient time in the day, they show up at the appointed time. Rather than slipping into the privacy of a booth, you step into a gathering of your immediate neighbors. Rather than a private secret ballot, each person literally takes a public stand for their candidate. Primaries are stealthy, caucuses are boldly public.

“So, how does this work?” I asked a man standing in front of me in line to check in. “This is my first caucus. We just moved here.”

“It’s my first caucus too,” he answered, “but I’ve lived here over 30 years.”

It was the first time he felt it was important enough to take a public stand. He explained there was more at stake now than any time he could remember.

Most States have moved to primaries. People prefer them. They are more convenient. They are private. There is no risk of your stand being exposed to public scrutiny. Primaries let us think what we want without having to say anything. We like it that way.

In some ways I believe we have lost something as a nation and as individuals by moving from caucuses to primaries. Taking a stand requires personal responsibility. It invites thoughtful reflection. It necessitates meaningful dialogue. It puts a higher value on the wellbeing of the whole community than a priority of personal camouflage.

The movement from caucus to primary politics in our culture is paralleled in faith. Many prefer being primary disciples rather than caucus disciples. We prefer to participate when it is convenient rather than showing up at the appointed time (I am not simply talking about church attendance here. Being an apprentice of Jesus is much deeper than that.) We prefer to follow Jesus in the isolation of a spiritual booth rather than engaging our neighbors in plain sight. We would rather cast a private ballot for Jesus than take a public stand.

Don’t get me wrong. People can be annoying as they stump for their candidate at a political caucus. The annoying ones do little to constructively represent their candidate or advance their cause. However, much is accomplished by those who boldly represent their candidate through articulate dialogue and meaningful engagement with others.

Similarly, people can be annoying as they stump for Jesus. They too do little to represent Him or advance His cause. However, on a much deeper level, a great deal is accomplished by those who boldly represent Him through articulate dialogue and meaningful engagement with others.

The world is in desperate need for caucus Christians who are articulate and represent the Kingdom of God through meaningful engagement. The call to follow Jesus is the call to step out of the fa├žade of a privatized booth of spirituality to take a meaningful public stand through the content of our lives.

Paul said people like that are beautiful. The idea wasn’t new. He quoted Isaiah who said:

“How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, “Your God reigns!” (Isaiah 52:7, cf. Romans 10:15)
Paul made it sound like this kind of beautiful life is also urgent. Eugene Peterson translates Paul’s words that follow:
“But how can people call for help if they don’t know who to trust? And how can they know who to trust if they haven’t heard of the One who can be trusted? And how can they hear if nobody tells them?” (Romans 10:14-15, The Message)

How can people hear the good news if votes are cast in silent isolation? How can they see if we live sequestered behind the curtain of privatized spirituality? Primary Christianity is preoccupied with anonymous self-preservation. Caucus Jesus followers passionately embody the good news out loud with grace and truth. There is much at stake for a watching world.

The man checking in before me at the caucus felt this year’s election was important enough to take a public stand. He was convinced there was more at stake now than any time he could remember. As true as that may be about American politics, there will be another caucus and election in four years with new candidates and rhetoric.

If his urgency around this year’s election is high enough to get him out to take a public stand for the first time in thirty years, how much more urgent is the need for grace and truth-filled public stands of the one Gospel that lasts? That may seem obvious, but our watching world wouldn’t necessarily know it by how they see us vote. Because it matters for a watching desperate world, it also matters to our watching Lord. Jesus said:
"For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for you to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit your very self? If any of you are ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of you when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels." Luke 9:24-26

He later added:

“I tell you, whoever publicly acknowledges me, the Son of Man will also acknowledge before the angels of God. But whoever publicly disowns me will be disowned before the angels of God.” Luke 12:8-9

I am not suggesting Jesus is a political candidate. He frustrated many and liberated others because he transcends nationalism and political correctness. He is not up for election. His reign is secure by Who He is and what He has done. At the end of the day, we don’t elect Him, He elects us to represent Him in the caucus of our contemporary world. This is your appointed time for His redemptive cause in our broken world. He has assigned us to the precinct of our neighborhoods. It’s time to show up, step up and take a stand.

What do you think? Please click "Comments" 6 to leave yours.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Looking Poverty in the Face

What happens when poverty has the face of a child?

It can mess you up.

But poverty is too big to have a face, isn't it? It’s an enormous, blurry, ugly reality … out there. Half the world’s six billion people live on less than $2 per day. Global poverty’s not a face, it’s a blur. We are left to feel overwhelmed and paralyzed by the sheer magnitude of it. What could we do anyway? The attempt to make a difference feels like we are emptying a pail of water in our hand. Anything caught is at best a proverbial drop in the bucket.

Something as big as global poverty can’t have a face of someone so small anyway, can it? Even if did, how would we recognize a face that doesn’t live in our neighborhood?

I met Marcello in rural central Ecuador the day before yesterday. I was there to see the work of Compassion International first hand. Marcello is a handsome, soft-spoken 12-year old boy. He lives with his four sisters and parents in a small two room, dirt-floor home. Most reading this blog may consider their humble home too rundown to use as an outdoor shed.



I was humbled by their hospitality and graciousness. Marcello’s mom and dad love their children and sacrifice daily for them. They are filled with hopes and dreams. In that way, they are not unlike any parents in our own neighborhoods.

They also love God and trust Him - for their very survival. Marcello and his family give a face to the oft preferred, easily ignored, vague blur of poverty. They give a godly face; faces you cannot ignore. When I look away from Marcello’s face, I look away from the face of God. Jesus said:

“Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” Matthew 25:40.

Jesus was talking about the hungry, the thirsty, and the imprisoned. He was talking about the poor. Jesus didn’t say “whatever you did for all these brothers and sisters of mine.” He said “whatever you did for one.” Poverty is addressed one life at a time, one Marcello at a time, one face at a time.

Facing poverty is at the heart of God because it is facing people made in His image. Perhaps the greatest form of poverty is the convenient attempts to see it as an ambiguous distant blur rather than the reality of people loved by God. Half the world lives on two dollars a day, and half the world is under the age of 16. Can there be a more compelling call for those set apart to bear witness to what is at the heart of God? In an interview with Christianity Today, Bono said:

"A third of the Earth's population is incarcerated by poverty. It is, as they say, the drive of the Scriptures. Why isn't it the drive of the churches?"
All the resources necessary to stamp out the degrading affects of global poverty are available, should the hearts of Christians break for what breaks the heart of God. It is doable, one life at a time through communities of Jesus followers in partnership with ministries like Compassion International and World Vision.

How we treat the poor, Jesus said, is the same as how we treat Him. If you knew Jesus was poor, how would you respond? Really; what would you do? Even more, what did Jesus do in the face of our poverty? How far did He willingly go for you, me and our impoverished world? Marcello (and his sister in the photo above) give poverty a face. In their face we discover Jesus.

So, what happens when poverty has a face?

What do you think? Please click "Comments" 6 to leave yours.

Monday, January 21, 2008

What's Your Dream?

“I have a dream!” These words of MLK are known by people of all ages and used by those across all political persuasions. MLK has become a symbol and these four words the banner. They evoke emotion and imagination. Of all the millions of words he spoke before equal numbers of people, these four from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial remain synonymous with his identity. His influence continues, already making an adolescent appearance in the current presidential race.

Today businesses, schools, banks, post offices – and even churches take a rest to remember the man and his mark on our culture. He is more universally popular today in America than he was when he walked in Birmingham, or when he stood on the steps in Washington or when he died in Memphis. He had a dream – a prophetic dream. Unfortunately, the content of the rest of his speech and dream is less remembered than the inspiration that he had one.

King’s life and work are most often and rightly remembered as prophetic inspiration. I will never forget first visiting Ebenezer Baptist Church and the MLK National Museum and Memorial in Atlanta. The museum preserves much of the content of his life in the past while inviting conversation and imagination for the future. The site includes MLK’s elevated tomb in the middle of a reflection pool. I found it so profoundly moving that I brought the rest of my family to experience it during our summer vacation only a few months later.

With my profound admiration, there are details of his life and work I don’t completely agree with. He didn’t expect people to. How we remember King’s legacy would be more important to King than the fact that we do. An Associated Press article put it this way:

That does a disservice to both King and society, said Melissa Harris-Lacewell, professor of politics and African-American studies at Princeton University. By freezing him at that point, by putting him on a pedestal of perfection that doesn't acknowledge his complex views, "it makes it impossible both for us to find to new leaders and for us to aspire to leadership," Harris-Lacewell said. … "If we forget that, then it seems like the only people we can get behind must be popular," Harris-Lacewell said. "Following King meant following the unpopular road, not the popular one."

In that way, King’s life followed Jesus’ example. Jesus’ life challenged the dominant power structures of His day. Jesus’ identification and advocacy for the marginalized were dangerous for the status quo. His Kingdom dream was revolutionary and unpopular. He was on the unpopular road to Calvary. Nobody wants to be on that road. Yet, it was the necessary and only road that led to the redemption of the world.

Jesus said:
Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for you to gain the whole world, yet forfeit your soul? Or what can you give in exchange for your soul? If any of you are ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of you when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.” Mark 8:34-38

What are practical ways you and I can follow Jesus’ prophetic inspiration in our real world today? What is the most pressing “social” issue in America for you? (Before you read further, take a moment to cast your vote with one click using the poll at the top of the page).

The Barna Group released its most recent findings today on what Americans say are the current top social issues in the country. These are especially interesting in an election year. The top three might surprise you. Based on their polling research across the country:
Americans are troubled by a diverse palette of concerns. Three types of issues are of particular concern, perceived as "major" problems facing the country by three-quarters of the population. Those included poverty (78%), the personal debt of individual Americans (78%), and HIV/AIDS (76%). (You can find the rest of their detailed findings and where other issues ranked at: http://www.barna.org/.)
What do you think these results say about us? What does Jesus’ Dream of the redemption of the world mean in practical terms for our daily life and society? What do those who follow Jesus need to recognize or do to make a real prophetic difference? What is your dream?

What do you think? Please click the comments 6 to leave yours.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Exhilarating!















Exhilarating!

~ The thrill of flying down a mountain on skis with the sun and wind hitting your face.

~ Gorgeous vistas only possible at these elevations. (This photo was taken on a ski summit at a little over 13,000 feet overlooking the Loveland Pass in the Rocky Mountains).

~ Enjoying the day with my family on the slopes filled with new memories and comfort zones.

The list sounds a little like a MasterCard commercial that ends with the word ... Priceless. In some ways it was.

Yesterday we spent the day skiiing and snowboarding as a family in the Rocky Mountains. It was a rare opportunity and gift. My sons ventured onto snowboards for the first time and tore it up. My daughter was awesome on skis. It felt great for my wife and I to be back on the slopes together. It was a day of awe and worship.

The conversation in the car on the way home was animated and interesting. One of my kids said "What a great day! It pushed me beyond my comfort zones, which is good for me." Another said, "I realized that one of the secrets of skiing and snowboarding is confidence. When you hestitate you fall. You just have to relax and go for it." I loved where the conversation was going. I was thrilled for their new discoveries about skiing - and life.

Successful downhill skiing is counter-intuitive. For example, there is the importance of putting your weight on your downhill ski. Everything in a new skiier wants to keep the weight on the uphill ski. It sounds safer and less risky. It is also the sure fire way to go nowhere, or more often, to become intimate with the snow! It leads those who keep doing it to ask "is this all there is?" Making a turn with your weight on your downhill ski feels more risky at first. It aims you, at least for a moment, straight down the hill. However, it is in that risk one gains momentum and direction. As my son said, "you just have to relax and go for it."

The exilaration of life and following Jesus is similar (John 10:10). Our inclination is to put our weight on the uphill ski of self-preoccupation and self-preservation. Everything in us and around us promotes what one author called "self-addiction." Those who keep putting their weight on this uphill ski go no where, or worse. It also leads people to ask "is this all there is?"

Jesus said counter-intuitive unexpected things like "The Son of Man has come not to be served, but to serve and to give himself as a ransom for many" (Matthew 20:28). He later said "I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you" (John 13:15).

Mark Labberton has done a marvelous job in his new book The Dangerous Act of Worship to call us back to the urgent neighbor-loving world-changing worship rooted in God's radical and freeing love. It was recalibrating for me as I begin this new year. In his final chapter he challenges all of us who put our weight on life's uphill ski:

The consequence of this unshakable love of God is that it sets us free from the compulsion we have to protect and provide for ourselves, so instead we can turn our hearts and energies toward others. When we are held by the unbreakable lifeline of Jesus Christ, we can reach out to others. ...

Jesus says wake up! ...
  • Are we ready to live life in God in our town, or do we still insist on living in our town and try to fit God in? .
  • Are we willing to let the gospel do the deep redefining work of establishing us in our new humanity, or will we only let it do a little sprucing up?

The Dangerous Act of Worship, Mark Labberton, pages 182-184

Putting our weight on the downhill ski is an intentional choice - on the slopes and in life. It is the only way to experience the thrill of flying down the mountain with the sun and wind hitting your face. It is the only way to experience gorgeous vistas only possible at these elevations. It is the only way of making new memories and comfort zones. It is the only way to follow Jesus and live the life we were created for.

How will your new year be intentionally different? What does keeping your weight on the uphill ski of your life look like? What would it mean to put your weight on the downhill ski of radically trusting Jesus in this new year? What would it mean for a community of Jesus followers?

As my son discovered again: relax and go for it!

Exhilarating!


What do you think? Please click the comments link 6 to leave yours.