Too many buckets. A bucket for work. A bucket for God things and prayer and bible reading. A bucket for my marriage. A bucket for parenting. A bucket for my friends. A bucket for my leisure time. A bucket for the stuff I don't want anyone to see. Lots of buckets. A regular bucket bonanza.
Each bucket its own stuff. Don't let them mix. Line them up and hope that when I play bucket bonanza, I can keep landing the ball in each bucket. I just line up the buckets in a row (just like Bozo--hmmm, just like Bozo. A hint that there may be a problem) in order of priority (important buckets close, not so important buckets to the back) and throw the ball. Every now and then I hit the bucket at the end--woohoo! Bonus!
I'm not sure this bucket bonanza approach to life is healthy. Okay I am sure. Its not healthy. Lots of compartments for everything, no mixture, lots of stress to keep all the buckets working. I think that bucketization is fracturing and fracturing is the hallmark of idolatry.
Think about idolatry for a minute. In idolatry, if I need help in this area, I go to this god and please it and it helps me a little. I need help in this other area, I go to this other god and please it and it helps me a little. God after god, a god for every bucket, make all the gods happy, don't mix the gods around, life is good as I run around pleasing all these gods that in turn please me.
Deuteronomy 6: Hear O Israel: Yahweh our God, Yahweh is one. You shall love Yahweh your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall (then) teach them diligently to your children...[everywhere you go and in everything you do].
God says to Israel, "I am one. Now bring me into everything and everything into me." In other words, fewer buckets with more God in them. Condense and combine. Integrate. Be whole. God is one.
This is roughly a recap of a talk I gave last night at our Refuel meeting (or at least a little part of it.) But I think its something for us to wrestle with as a community. Kill the fracturing. Get into fewer buckets. Serve a God who is One in a way that reflects His Wholeness by your wholeness.
I've done a teaching a couple times on the topic of sex that included "how to choose a wife". Here are the three simple criteria to choosing a wife:
She must have a pulse.
She must love Jesus (right now).
She must be willing to put up with you.
If a man can find a woman who meets these three criteria, marry her.
Roger asked me last week, "what's the list for ladies choosing [to receive] a man?" That got me thinking. So here's my companion list for women who are deciding whether or not to say yes to a man's pursuit and engagement:
He must love Jesus (right now).
He must have a job (right now) that you are willing to live with.
He must be ready to say just "Yes"--forsaking all other, faithful only to you till death do we part.
I think Mark, who's wedding I did two weeks ago, said it well in his vows that he wrote for his wife Julia:
Julia, long ago you were just a dream and a prayer. Today, the Lord Himself has answered that prayer and made taht dream come true. I thank Jesus for the honor of going through time with you. Thank you for being what you are to me. With the deepest joy, I receive you into my life, that together we may be as one. As Jesus is to His church, so I will be to you a loving and faithful husband. I promise you my deepest love, my fullest devotion, my tenderest care. I promise I will live first unto God rather than others or even you. I promise that I will lead our lives into lives of faith and hope in Christ Jesus. With our future as bright as the promises of God, I wil care for you, honor and protect you. And so throughout our life, no matter what may lie ahead of us, I pledge to you today, my life, as a loving and faithful husband.
I've been listening to Brian Zhand since February of this year when my sister mentioned he'd been at a leadership conference at her church. Zhand is a pastor who was birthed out of the Charismatic revivals of the 70's and has pastored a Charismatic church for over 25 years--Word of Life in St. Joseph, Missouri.
Brian is also one of the most spiritually deep, historically-rooted, simple-but-insightful and culturally connected teachers I podcast. He's deep but he's super real and he makes some incredible, I believe prophetic commentaries on American life and American worship--both of God and of false gods. He's not one of those guys who yells at you, though. He speaks truth in a way that makes you say, "ooh, I think I need to hear that." Its truth from a humble vessel which is the hardest kind of truth to ignore.
Today I'm posting a recent message of his that I believe needs to be heard... twice.
I'll eat just about anything if its made out sweet potatoes. Hated them growing up and love them as much as I hated them now. Sweet potato chips, fries, cooked with marshmallows on top, baked--just make the potato dish out of sweet potatoes and I'm happy.
There. I feel better now. Some things just need to be said.
A new feature, you might even call it a public service of this blog is "I read, you digest". No, I'm not suggesting that you eat while I read (not even sure how that would be possible). But if I read a magazine of interest (of interest to me, that is), I may as well pass along a digested version with links so that you can read toward your interests.
Expect some commentary and quotes and understand that I will only cherry-pick what I found most valuable--we're not about comprehensive here at caffeine, please. We like what we like and that's what we report on. Sort of a tipping over of FoxNews: They report, I decide, You Read at your own Risk.
Barring Yahweh, a news brief on the papal command for American Catholics to stop using the name Yahweh in their worship services. And thankfully, there to defend the Vatican's position is a Reformed seminary professor, Carol Bechtel: "Its always left me baffled and perplexed and embarrassed that we sprinkle our hymns with that name. Whether there are Jewish brothers and sisters in earshot, the most obvious reason to avoid using the proper and more personal name of God in the Old Testament is simply respect for God."
I'm not really sure where to begin in my rant against this dumb perspective.
Had a chance to attend a meeting today sponsored by Leadership Network (www.leadnet.org) with pastors and staff from around the country who have done church restarts. Warren Bird and Dave Travis hosted and about 15 different churches and 25 different leaders were present. Valuable to get insight and cross-pollination perspective on what God seems to be doing in places across North America.
Anytime I can hear from other leaders I'm always amazed at how approaches vary so widely in pursuing mission and yet how common the threads of experience can be. Whether people are in Phoenix, Dallas, Miami, Toronto, Chicago, Tulsa or anywhere else, the people are different but the people are the same, the challenges are different but the challenges are the same. No two churches are exactly alike and yet the issues feel so similar and the kinship is strong as I hear the stories shared.
It does seem that we are one of the few churches, at least at this gathering, who's primary experience is in urban and "redemption restarts"--in other words restarting a church that is stuck or in decline in an urban area. Many of the other churches present had merged with churches that were already somewhat effective and strong but wanted the backing and connection of a larger, better-resourced multi-site church network. It got me thinking if that would be something God may bring our way in Chicago or other U.S. cities in the future. Don't know--just prayer-wondering out loud.
Looking forward to getting back to sweet home Chicago in a few hours. Hopefully, our great Chicago weather will clear up enough to get a plane down here from O'hare. I'm planning for a long night by the looks of things--brought plenty of reading material for just such a reason
I was holding my five year old when she pointed at a decoration in our family room. "Dad, what does F-A-I-T-H spell?" (She asks what everything spells these days--part of the learning process.)
I said, "faith, Olivia. That spells faith. What is faith?"
Her answer: "being nice to people and..." Okay but not quite. Time to define so a five year old can remember.
I defined it for her this way: "Faith is doing what God says because you believe Him." Simple enough for a 5 year old, convicting enough for a 35 year old. I think I'll stick with that simple definition.
Sunday I shared this before our teaching time. Feels like it would be worthwhile post in its entirety here.
This has been a historic week in our nation’s history. Truly historic.
Watching a man with brown skin walk onto a stage surrounded by throngs of people in the city of Chicago—a city where racial hatred has been an ugly stigma for many years, the city where MLK was bricked in the head and claimed that the South could come to Chicago to learn how to hate—to see this man and his family come out and accept his election to the Presidency of our nation, it was powerful. An unforgettable, indelible moment. I felt a deep smile in my soul seeing something so profound in my lifetime.
To watch Jesse Jackson in uncontrollable tears, to hear everyday people who were profoundly impacted, to see newscasters choked up and in tears as they tried to talk about what this moment meant. It was profound. A truly healing moment. As an observer to our national history and politics, I believe the moment of Barack Obama’s acceptance speech will live as a moment that 50 years from now, many of us will still be unable to forget.
Now I want to ask you, “are you a Christian?” If you are, I want to talk to you:
Did your guy win? Then as a Christian, you need to check your hope. Be happy for what God is already doing to bring release and healing in the area of race in our country. But be careful that you remember where your hope is and who is really in charge in every nation on earth. Measure your enthusiasm—Barack Obama is a man and he will disappoint. And he is not what ultimately represents hope for America. God’s people living for Him is what represents hope for every nation. Redouble your heart with trust in Jesus—purpose to walk humbly with God. Jesus said you are salt and light. That is every nation’s hope—people of the kingdom of Jesus living like people of Jesus’ kingdom. Pray for the king—pray for Barack Obama to seek the face of God daily to rule wisely.
Did your guy lose? Then as a Christian, you need to check your despair. Do you remember that God is in charge? That he raises up and he takes down rulers as He wishes? Christians never let governments dictate their peace. Their peace is determined and fixed by the Kingdom of Jesus—the unfailing, uncompromising, unchanging Kingship of Jesus. Remember that you have a key calling as a Christian—to honor and pray for the king. So do it joyfully. Get out of your bunker if you’re in one. You’re a Christian. You carry your armor with you wherever you go. You don’t need a bunker.
I took my son to a friend's house this afternoon. On the way I asked him, "what could I stop doing or start doing to be a better dad." My thoughtful son pondered that for a bit. Then he answered, "well, sometimes when I start to answer you you stop me and don't let me finish and you say something different than what I was trying to say and you don't let me finish."
<Cue the gut punch.>
His eyes welled up with tears as he told me. It broke my heart. Stink. "I'm really sorry Tyce. I know I do that to both you and Jaley. I can tell that really hurts you and I'm really sorry. I'm going to talk to mom about helping me deal with that. I need to do a lot better in letting you say what you mean without jumping to conclusions and assuming I know everything."
Pretty sure I'm going to do it again--cut my son off, assume I know what's going on, trample on his thoughts--but it will sting more next time because I'll remember the respectful and tearful way my son told me that I should stop.
Hey dads, give your kids a chance to tell you how you're doing. I think it may just make you a better dad. Hope it makes me a better one... eventually.
It. is. finally. Here! Our new New Life website has been in the works for about 5 years. And finally, it has become a reality. Features will be added over the next couple months, but the new site with new content, look and feel, dynamic content (like blogs) and new layout is a huge accomplishment. Big kudos to Dan Droubie who invested a lot in moving this process forward.
Check out the site and tell your friends. And if you want a fun game, see how many people you can identify in the photos!
I just got back from an overnight pastoral retreat with almost our entire team--15 pastors from 11 different locations. What a refreshing two days! I count it a privilege to serve Jesus with a team of men that I like, that I laugh with, that I pray with, that I serve with and that I wrestle, plan and strategize with. Feels like the kind of life disciples are meant to experience.
Wednesday evening (day 1) we headed into downtown Elgin for some great Mexican food at El-Faro and then we hit the town on foot to enjoy the beautiful November weather. We stopped into First UCC of Elgin and sang "A Mighty Fortress" by Martin Luther. Man-choir power! This is becoming something of a habit lately--grabbing a hymnal and singing a man-friendly hymn together.
From there we passed by the Elgin House of Prayer. Pastor Mark asked a guy inside if we could come up and visit with their prayer team. About 8 flights of circular stairs later we entered the room where the group was praying.
A couple was leading worship on guitar and two ladies joined them in singing. That was the entire gathering for this particular night of prayer. This faithful group prays for Elgin every morning and evening--5 days a week. And as can often be the case in prayer ministry, they are often few in number. But they were praying and worshipping anyway.
The 15 of us walked in and just began singing with them--and we were loud. The EHOP folks started looking aournd and smiling as if we'd just bought them each a new car. The more we sang and prayed together (unannounced and anonymous) the more I could tangibly sense that we were deeply and profoundly encouraging these dear, faithful prayer warriors. It was powerful--a holy moment. And we all knew it and commented on it afterward.
One of the women said, "we wondered if God sent us a team of angels to worship with us." (If she only knew, hah!)
Firehose encouragement. Faithful people can experience encouragement like no one else can. When you walk in faithfulness, doing the hard work of serving or praying or loving or worshipping, especially when no one seems to see it, encouragement goes deeper and has a more profound impact.
By the way, the converse is also true. If you're not being faithful when no one is looking, you are also going to be very hard to encourage. Unfaithfulness makes every seemingly encouraging act given to you seem hollow and unwarranted to your spirit and leaves you feeling grieved.
Faithfulness is like the fire hydrant that allows God to hook up a hose and shower you with encouragement. Choose secret faithfulness in all things--persevering in faith, hope and love.
By spiritual coincidence yesterday I completed reading 1 Chronicles and today opened my Bible to read 2 Chronicles 1. This is the inauguration of Solomon as king of Israel. What a strange and great passage to read the morning after a historic election.
Solomon stands in front of "all Israel" to speak to them, starts his reign with massive worship and then during the night has a visitation from God. God invites Solomon to ask what he would desire as he faces this great responsibility.
Solomon says to God, "Give me now wisdom and knowledge to go out and come in before this people, for who can govern this people of yours, which is so great?"
Wow! What a prayer of epic humility and dependence for a new President to pray as well. Solomon feels the weight of this great responsibility of leadership and in his sleepless restlessness encounters God and humbly prays. He asks for God's help because the gravity of the mantle of this leadership is so great.
I'm praying that President-elect Obama would have a similar prayer on his lips as he absorbs the great weight of this epic leadership responsibility.
Yesterday, while Lena was in her ballet class, Tyce and I hung out. We played in the park and then took a walk. Its often hard for me to disengage from all that's on my mind--to be fully present in the moment--but yesterday was one of those days that I did manage to "get present" and we got to really talk.
As we walked I asked him why he voted for Barack Obama in school that day. "Because the whole class was going to vote for him, I guess." But he explained it wasn't an issue of peer pressure but more of futility. His thought was, "who wants to vote for the guy no one will vote for anyway? What's the point?" And besides that he likes Barack Obama (so do I).
Since he didn't really know what a president does, I took the rest of the first half of our walk giving him a civics lesson in American government. "The executive branch blah blah blah... the legislative branch blah blah blah... checks and balances..." It was scintilating stuff.
After a bit, we took a sit on the steps of Covenant Presbyterian Church in Wicker Park (which is a beautiful building, by the way) and I steered the conversation toward leadership in general. I asked him if there were any biblical restrictions on who can lead in different realms. Particularly, can both men and women lead in every realm according to Scripture? He puzzled for quite awhile. (He's a thoughtful guy--puzzling is his way.)
His answer was at best smoky. I could tell that he didn't have confidence and that he didn't want to say the "wrong thing" so I flipped into instruction mode for a bit. I explained that biblically, God calls a husband to lead his home like Jesus leads the church (Eph 5)--with servant leadership not pagan leadership. I talked about pagan leadership v. servant leadership and how Jesus is always our pattern for what leadership looks like.
Then we flipped to another leadreship realm--the church. I explained that biblically, by conviction I believe that elder leadership in a church (pastors in our context) is to be men--"husband of one wife" (1 Tim 3, Titus 1, the example of the apostles). In the same way that the leadership of a home has to be self-sacrificing, Jesus-patterned, servant leadership, so should the elder leadership in a church.
I explained that leadership is not dictatorship that good leaders rely on collaboration and get input from people who are better than them at things. I talked about how leaders accept blame when things fail and spread praise when things succeed. That leadership ultimately is about taking responsibility for the present state of things and then believing God for the future state of things.
Part of my point was to help my son see that in most realms, Scripture gives no clear deliniation about gender in regard to leadership--government, community, workplace, etc. And that in those places where the bible is silent, we should not invent rules. (Like, "a woman can't be president", for instance).
Here's what I've learned about opportunities like this conversation I had with Tyce--you make your own opportunity most of the time. Rarely does conversation like that just happen. I have to lead it out. And gently and prayerfully so, at that. And when I do God turns an average moment into a teachable moment and a time of special bonding.
Yes. I took last week off. A blog break. Every once in while I like to get away from writing and remember why I do it. I blog to process life out loud. I blog to stay accessible as a pastor. I blog to foster transparency. I blog because I like to share laughs with people. I blog because I have an almost compulsive need to comment on things--I'm that guy who's always whispering to his neighbor in class with some wisecrack. And I blog as means of disciplining myself to write regularly.
And so I'll be back at the writing desk this week. Good to see you all again.