Thursday, November 26, 2009

What I'm Thankful For

I woke up this morning in an incredibly thankful mood. Since that doesn't happen very often (although I desperately wish it did) I decided to write a few things down. These are the things I'm thankful for:

-I am thankful for my God. I am thankful that he has a name, Yahweh. I am thankful that he is a man, Jesus. I am thankful that he has revealed himself in history, but I am most thankful that he reveals himself now. I am thankful that faith is kind of like cliff jumping: It looks silly, scary and stupid until you try it and realize that the reality of the act comes to you during the experience. Only those that have taken the plunge understand, appreciate, and live for it. I am thankful that ultimately we relate to God in relationship. Not a one-way relationship, but a living, breathing, intimate and life-giving relationship. I am thankful that the Lord has shown himself to me and that no matter what happens in my life I could never "un-believe" in him. It is just like having a conversation with someone, walking away and trying to convince yourself that they don't exist. It just can't happen.

-I am thankful for my wife Brittany. I am thankful for her heart, her courage, and her spirit. I am thankful that I am joined together with her in this journey of life. Wow. I am thankful and in awe of her faith. I am thankful for her joy and laughter. I am thankful for the way that she mirrors the love of God in being a mother. (Side note: I am thankful that she's the best cook in the whole wide world and it is awesome to watch her creativity and skill come out in the things she makes with such ease and delicacy)

-I am thankful for my son Cooper. I am thankful for the way in which his youthfulness and joy mirrors the spirit and nature of the Lord. I am thankful that he has shown me the true meaning of having faith like a child. I am thankful for his tender heart and his innocence. I am thankful that he is growing into a strong, smart, and caring little boy. I am thankful that he has such a wonderful support system of love around him. I am thankful that the Lord has chosen him for a wonderful purpose that I get to play a part in bringing about and watching unfold.

-I am thankful for the rest of my family. I am thankful for my mother, father, brother, sister, step-father, step-mother, father in-law, mother in-law, step-father in-law, grandparents in-laws (sp?), brothers in-laws and the rest of my amazing extended family. I am thankful for the way in which marriage brings about connections and unity not only with an added family, but with the family you've always had. I have come to have such an appreciation for the way I was raised and the way that the Lord redeemed hard situations to bring about his glory and to shower love on me.

-I am thankful for my job. I am thankful that the Lord has chosen me to bring his hope and love to middle schoolers in Boulder. I love that. I love the kids that I am currently walking with, and have gotten the privilege to walk with over the last 7 years. I am thankful for the place where I work. I am thankful that First Pres has such a commitment to the next generation, and shows their commitment where it counts the most and costs them the most. That is the measure of support. I am thankful for the people I work with. They are wonderful examples of God's love.

-I am thankful for this season.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

In the Trenches

Caleb is in 7th grade, and his family life is hard.  His mom died when he was 5, and his dad, stretched thin as a middle-aged single father of 3 working as a carpet salesman, barely has enough time to work and feed his children.  Relationships have come hard for his father in the past few years, and he’s lived with a two of his girlfriends without ever marrying.  Caleb’s family is good enough; they stress morals, virtue, and the benefits of being good people.  But without much of a reason for the question of “why”, deep down Caleb is confused.  He sees the way in which his dad tries to love him and his siblings, but he also sees the incredible pain and lack of commitment in his father’s life.  Rarely is someone home when he walks in the front door from school.  He has trouble doing his homework and excelling in school.  He sees his older sister not coming home on the weekends and dating losers.  Last week he found her stash of bud (translation: marijuana), showed all his friends and stole some.  Caleb wonders why his father won’t seriously approach her about the stuff she’s doing, but all his friends think it’s cool so he doesn’t say anything.  There is no spoken belief in God and Caleb has never attended a church service in his life… Fast forward to the day that his buddy Kevin invites him to come to his youth group with him.  Caleb shows up nervous, but is soon glad to see other kids he knows from school along with a few cute girls that catch his eye.  He meets a volunteer leader and fills out a guest card with all his info (including writing his name as Chuck Norris) on it before leaving for the night and going home.  Stop here. 


Two worlds have collided and the situation is messy.  From the outside it could look a lot worse, and many times it is, but on the inside lies confusion, apathy and insecurity.  This situation is too systemic and removed for a church program plagued by religious stigma, and too complex for a well-structured weeknight youth service.


Isn’t this the average American family that we come in contact with all the time?  Can’t we name dozens of people that fit into a profile like this?  The fact is that many of us can easily identify the families like this in our community.  Sometimes it’s hard to see the suffering in people when it’s not overt and explicit, and many times Christians don’t know how to interact and speak into people who haven’t hit rock bottom.  It is intimidating.  Words don’t penetrate as deeply.  Simply put: it requires more of our time and relational energy.    


All the awesome worship guitar rifts in the world won’t reach Caleb when he goes back to his day-to-day life and home.  No awesome talk and funny video will do much by itself to bring Caleb to a place of true healing in his life.  No flat screen TV with inspirational teaching loops on it will instantly provide him the love he needs to navigate the tough world around him.  No awe-inspiring multi-million dollar church building will make his dad a better father to his children, or clean up his sister’s life.  God definitely uses all the previously mentioned avenues of ministry in certain ways, but when left alone they fall well short of the way the Lord uses people in the lives of each other.  Caleb knows this and deep down he’ll continue his journey, wandering like an isolated nomad through the deserts of adolescence. 


It doesn’t matter that most experienced youth workers can immediately identify what’s wrong with this scenario, because in reality few people will do anything about it.  Life changing relationships just don’t happen all that often for kids like Caleb.  They’re not in the “inner circle” of the social youth group club.  They’re flaky and skeptical.  The only group they really fit in is the broken, hurting, and lost majority of society. They have emotional walls up that will test the patience of all but the most dedicated, called and incarnationally minded people. 


What’s that?  Incarnationally minded?  Is that just some “Christianese” seminary word?  Sadly, for most people yes.  The truth is though, if you want to understand what real ministry in the trenches looks like, you have to understand the power of incarnational relationships.  At the core of following and believing in Jesus Christ is the idea that God incarnated himself, or became flesh, and dwelt among us. (John 1:14)  He went from heaven to earth.  He went from the comfortable to the painful.  He went somewhere that he was out of place.   He laid down his life.  How we attempt to do the same in the lives of those around us will determine the effectiveness of our ministry and our faith. 


Our goal and call is simple:  present the life changing power of the gospel of Jesus Christ, which we have seen FIRST HAND, to a world that desperately needs it.


The way in which we go about it requires something of us: our lives.     

Saturday, September 19, 2009


The following is an excerpt from an Irving Kristol essay titled "Income Inequality Without Class Conflict", Dec, 18, 1997.  Reprinted in the Wall Street Journal on 9/19/09.

"It is often said that capitalism - that is, a market economy - is morally obnoxious because its 'trickle-down economics' inevitably creates inequality of income and wealth.  Now it is certainly true that 'trickle-down economics' has that effect.  It is also true, however, that if you want economic growth and greater affluence for all, there is simply no alternative to 'trickle-down economics,' which is just another name for growth economics. 

The world has yet to see a successful version of 'trickle-UP economics,' an egalitarian society in which the sate ensures that the fruits of economic growth are universally and equally shared.  The trouble with this idea - it is, of course, the socialist ideal - is that it does not produce those fruits in the first place.  Economic growth is promoted by entrepreneurs and innovators, whose ambitions, when realized, create inequality.  No one with any knowledge of human nature can expect such people not to want to be relatively rich, and if they are too long frustrated they will cease to be productive.  Nor can the state substitute for them, because the state simply cannot engage in the 'creative destruction' that is an essential aspect of innovation.  The state cannot and should not be a risk-taking institution, since it is politically impossible for any state to cope with the inevitable bankruptcies associated with economic risk taking."

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Curing the Cancer: Mistrust

Lately a spirit of unity has been sweeping over the youth ministry community where I live.  It seems that we’ve all come to the conclusion that if we don’t work together we’re like people swimming alone up a swift river…working really hard and not going anywhere.  More than that, I think we’ve come to realize that in a city like Boulder, unity in the faith community speaks volumes to people seeking truth in their lives.  Boulder is a place of deeply fractured belief systems.  There is no one dominate world-view, and people are precisely attracted to living here for that reason.  Being united in belief and practice stands out in sharp contrast to the world around us, and the power of cooperative truth can be a strong magnet to people looking for the Lord.

The last thing we need to have is a fractured Church.  I think we’d all agree with this statement, at least in spirit, and I know that there are many people who have heartbeats driving them to promote unity in the Christian community.  That is wonderful…and needed.  I’ve been wrestling with this idea though, and I’m constantly confronted with the question of why.  Why is unity so hard in practice?  More importantly, what does Christ mean when he calls us to be one as he and his Father are one?

            As I’m being led to work in unity with the people around me, I’m realizing just how hard it can be.  I’m beginning to understand how little differences can actually become huge barriers in the process of gaining momentum.  To begin the process of understanding each other and moving to a place of true undivided ministry, we can’t just expose the areas that we disagree on and attempt to reconcile them.  This approach is many times impossible and even dangerous.  We will always disagree.  In fact, we should disagree…it’s healthy.  Homogenous ministry approaches and worldviews can lead to blind-sided organizational structures and will miss out on reaching/communicating to whole groups of people.  Without disagreement, it is impossible for us to improve, restore and grow each other as iron sharpens iron.  An iron sword standing alone becomes dull and useless…as do we when we aren’t opening ourselves up to the criticisms (and even the slightly off-base ideas) of others.  This leads us to the conclusion that it is not disagreement on it’s own that is causing so much strife within the Christian community …it is something much deeper. 

Something is present in conflict that tries to take our differences (that which are inherently beautiful and part of our creation) and turn them into ugly irreconcilable monsters that threaten the very fabric of our being.  I want to dive deep into mistrust and the ways in which it divides and conquers the body of Christ.  Mistrust acts like a cancer cell in our spirit.  It breeds on itself and multiplies until it takes over whole regions in our lives.  It takes away the freedom and beauty that comes when the Christian community acts in a healthy way. 

Mistrust is developed in two major ways as it relates to the ministry community: It comes from our own insecurities around who we are in Christ, and it comes out of a misunderstanding of the kingdom of God.  When we forget the darkness that Christ called us and redeemed us out of, we can quickly forget that the Lord takes us first as we are and then begins the process of transformation within us.  He takes all of our shortsighted ideas, our less-than-holy lives, and our brokenness, and in turn he gives us life.  He lets us on to his team…he asks us to join his ‘club’.  We forget that we are imperfect sinners called to live deeply in grace, and then we project impossible standards of perfection on to those around us that are still actively falling short.  When they don’t stand up to those standards, we call them heretics and accuse them of watering down the gospel.  Couldn’t this be what Jesus was partly rebuking the Pharisees for in Matthew 23:4 and Luke 11:46 when he mentions the burdens that they place on people without lifting their own fingers to help them as they stumble?  It seems that one of the problems of the Pharisees was that they pictured a kingdom of heaven without the broken, messy, and redeemed people of the world.  They were the epitome of mistrust.  They didn’t trust each other, let alone other Jews and Gentiles.  When Christ called lowly fishermen to be his disciples, heal, teach, and start his church, it raised more than a few angry fists. 

All this to say, as we live in a kingdom of crazy, broken, and sinful people, we can’t let disagreements (however right and just we may be in the situation) become a foothold for disunity.  Instead, we should act like Paul encourages us to in Galatians 6:1…restore each other gently.  We need to pick our battles and any time we begin to worship the clarity of our theological pool, we have to remember that Jesus just might come walk through it with muddy boots on.  

Saturday, January 3, 2009

A Bible Divided?

"Arise, my soul, arise;
Shake off thy guilty fears;
The bleeding Sacrifice
In my behalf appears:
Before the throne my Surety stands,
My name is written on His hands.
My God is reconciled;
His pardoning voice I hear:
He owns me for His child;
I can no longer fear:
With confidence I now draw nigh,
And 'Father, Abba, Father,' cry".

-Charles Wesley-

This is beautiful.  And at first glance it would appear to be only talking about a reality that comes to us in the New Testament with the sacrifice of Jesus.  While never saying the word 'mercy', the hymn is all about the deep, incredible and abounding mercies of God.  That we, an imperfect and rebellious people, should ever share the table with the Most High and be called his sons and daughters is truly an amazing and undeserved thing.  These truths are not something that most Christ followers would protest against, but there is something that we mustn't ever mistake.  The mercy of God is not just something that happens to 'appear' in the New Testament as if it had been hibernating throughout the Old Testament.  In fact, mercy and judgement, being one in the nature of God, appear in equal parts throughout the whole Bible.  Even though the Lord doesn't need defending or explaining, it is helpful to see the ways in which this oneness of character is shown throughout the scriptures.  

It is a great, awful, and mysterious thing that God continually tries to reconcile himself to rebellious sons and daughters of his creation.  The fact that the prophets of the Old Testament were sent to us at all shows the mercy of the Lord abounding in it's infinitude.  How many times does he plead with his people to repent and turn back to him in the Old Testament?  To count would miss the point because that is what the whole Bible is about.  The coming of Jesus is the ultimate fulfillment of the merciful nature of God, but with it also comes ultimate justice.  
John 12:47,48 says this:  "As for the person who hears my words but does not keep them, I do not judge him.  For I did not come to judge the world, but to save it.  There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; that very word which I spoke will condemn him at the last day".

Jesus is saying here that he doesn't need to point an accusing finger at anybody, as if he were some judge sitting on a bench deciding peoples fates on a whim.  He's saying that his job was to come and speak truth to all that would hear and all who wouldn't.  That's it.  God's mercy is out there for all that decide to take it and live into it.  Jesus didn't come to judge anybody, but that doesn't change the fact that his words are truth and they never change.   

I also think it is important that we realize that God didn't just decide to one day change his nature and send Jesus into the world.  He is perfect in both his justice and his mercy.  They never contradict themselves in his nature; His words are the same yesterday, today, and forever.  

Sunday, December 21, 2008


"Chance and change are busy in our little world of nature and men, but in Thee we find no variableness nor shadow of turning.  We rest in Thee without fear or doubt and face our tomorrows without anxiety."

Even if you know what the word immutability means, how many people have ever really used it in a sentence?  I have a horrible vocabulary and I never was good at pulling words out on the fly to impress.  In fact, I still have a few words that I am constantly using in the wrong context...and I don't care.  The truth is though, that I've come to love this little (or not so little) word immutability lately.  

It means being incapable of change.  

Most importantly, it is a quality that is central to understanding God.  God is immutable.  He is incapable of changing.  His very nature prohibits itself from changing.  To change would imply that what the former state of God wasn't perfected in it's entirety and a need to change would be present.  He would either have to go from bad to better, from better to worse, mature to immature, or vice versa.  God is perfect.  He is what he has always been, what he wants to be, and what he can't help but being.  Of course we are talking about the core here...the very nature of God.  Even when Christ was born into the world, God didn't change his nature...Jesus was there from the beginning.

In a world and life that is wrought with change, some good and some bad, most people would say that it is hard.  Even if it is a change that needs to happen, it pulls us away from our comfort zone and isolates us with doubt.  We need to realize that change is not an inherently holy thing.  It is a result of fallen people needing to re-align themselves with their creator.  A man who walked closely with the Lord once said:

"In God no change is possible; in men change is impossible to escape.  Neither the man is fixed nor his world, but he and it are in constant flux.  Each man appears for a little while to laugh and weep, to work and play, and then to go to make room for those who shall follow him in the never-ending cycle."

Don't we all search for an everlasting permanence in our lives?  Don't we forever seek the solid rock to make our home upon?  Don't we desire to settle the Promised Land and live amongst family that know us?  I'm convinced that even the hard core wanderers among us (and I've done some wandering of my own) deeply desire to put their roots down in the soil of permanence.  That is what the Lord offers us.  That is what he wants to redeem us to.  Each of us know inherently that life changes ultimately bring us to the final change...death.  The cyclical nature of change ends up bringing us to a point of finality and fear.  It's depressing if you think about it.  

Can we seek the immutability of God while still realizing that the Lord works his plan of redemption through the very process that he stands against?  He desires complete permanence for us in him, but to bring us there he needs us to change.  I hope we realize that God will never change to suit our needs or fill our brokenness...instead he invites us into his immutable umbrella like a hen gathering her chicks.  That is beautiful...and immutable.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

where words fail...

"Lord, how great is our dilemma!  In thy presence silence best becomes us, but love inflames our hearts and constrains us to speak.  Were we to hold our peace the stones would cry out; yet if we speak, what shall we say?  Teach us to know that we cannot know, for the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God.  Let faith support us where reason fails, and we shall think because we believe, not in order that we may believe."
-A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy

This is not just a reflective prayer written down by a man who intimately knew God, but truth of a real dilemma that we are faced with as people.  The more we get to know the Lord and see his ways, the more we get faced with this situation.  The Bible is full of scripture that speaks to this very truth.  David in The Psalms, Jesus speaking of the hearts of his followers, and Paul talking about the supremacy of Christ in the book of Colossians as well as the work of the Holy Spirit in the children of God, all describe this.  Our prayer should be simply that God shows us himself in this way...and then we wait for him to reveal himself.