Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Reflection Precedes Resolutions...

Why do people make New Year's Resolutions? What fuels such "solutions" that are often seeming infused with very little resolve. In fact, according to most studies and surveys, only about 8 percent of Americans successfully achieve and follow-through on their New Year's resolutions. An overwhelming (or rather 'underwhelming') 45 percent fail by the end of January!

Regardless of all the sub lining reasons to this, I think part of the dilemma is that we start looking at the new year from the wrong vantage point. Often the best way to move forward is to look backwards. As the saying goes, Life is best understood backwards, but it can only be lived forward. In other words, reflection should precede resolutions...

Of all the things Americans make time for, reflection is very rarely one of them. The reasons for this and the consequences thereof could be the subject of numerous posts. In short, the word reflect comes from two Latin words: re, meaning "back," and flectere, meaning "to bend."

"To reflect, then, is to bend back something, like the way a mirror bends back an image, providing an opportunity for a closer look." (Ken Gire in The Reflective Life).
Personally, I have found the practice of reflection to be significant in my life with-God. Reflection(s) captured can serve as points of orientation and direction for the future. Several times a year I get away for a day or two on a personal retreat. One of the things that is always integrated into these times is extended periods of prayerful-listening-reflection.

One of the questions I reflect on is:
  • God, what are the main things You’ve been trying to teach and form within me lately…?
As simple and potentially insightful as this is, I've found that very few people ever take a few moments to ask God this question.

Before
I/we can make any grand resolution of what we will do in the future, it is imperative that we gain an understanding of what God has been endeavoring to produce within us in the recent-present.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Back to the Story for the First Time...

This time of year, many of us are prone to turn back to the beginning of the Gospels and read the Nativity narratives. Sunday messages are typically centered around this timeless story. This is true for me, as well as what we've been doing at SouthGate. Yet, I'm always leery of these seasons. I fear that we, especially in the West, often become immune to the power of these stories, especially after hearing them so many times. We read them, we hear them, but sometimes we can do so without listening to them. Really listening, as if it were the first time.

"I read a fascinating study a few years ago," writes Mark Batterson in Wild Goose Chase, "that suggested people stop thinking about the lyrics of a song after singing it thirty times. I"m sure the numbers vary from person to person but the tendency is universal. And it has profound implications when it comes to worship."

I think a similar case could be for the well-worn passages of Scripture.

Several weeks ago, I began re-reading through the Nativity narratives, perusing, thinking, reflecting, meditating and waiting. As I've done so, there's been a prayer that I pray often: "God, don't let me grow numb to this story... Keep me from assuming I know the story... Help me to see something new... Help me to read it again for the first time..."

God loves to answer this prayer!

God loves to open up new angles to His Word!

Several things have struck me in
new ways this season.

Last week, as I was reading through the narrative something caught my attention. Particular words to be exact. Words that described how people were feeling, responding and resonating to the events at hand. Words like:
"amazed, amazement, astonished, marvel, marveled, surprised, wonder, wondered" At every turn of the story, it is as if Luke, the narrator, pushes the pause button, freezes the act and steps out from backstage and inserts these emphatic snapshot-addendums to what was going on within the characters on stage.

These words caught my attention and a question curiosity began emerge within. I wonder if these words are all the same Greek word? What if Luke is echoing this same word again and again throughout this narrative. I began to explore the Greek texts of this passage and discovered that every time Luke uses the same Greek word -
thaumazo. (Luke uses this word thirteen times throughout his Gospel. Four of these times he uses this word in the first two chapters of the nativity narrative.)

This struck me as significant, especially in the context my prayer this season. It's as if Luke is inserting these narrative jolts into the storyline. He wants to get our attention! He wants us to slow down and enter into the wonderment again. He wants us to read this story, feel the awe and never become numb...

May we experience thaumazo for ourselves - again - for the firs time.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Interactive Family Ideas for the Holiday

Interactive Family Ideas for the Holiday
(Please note that each idea has a graded code at the end. P is for Preschool children, E is for Elementary children, T is for Teenagers, and A is for Adults.)


1. Using large sheets of paper, everyone in the family draws pictures of things they're thankful for. Keep the artwork for next year and display them
side by side. (PETA)


2. Create a Thankful Box, in which family members put slips of paper telling what they're thankful for. After dinner, read the papers out loud. (ETA)


3. Encourage each person to bring some special object to the table that represents what they are thankful for this year. Let each take a turn to share
their object and how it represents their thankfulness. (ETA)


4. Experience dinner together with only candlelight. Reflect on what it would be like to be without lighting, heat, shelter, etc. Spend some time
praying together, thanking God for all that you have, as well as praying for those in need this season. (PETA)


5. Write a card to someone you are especially thankful for. Be sure to allow time, material and stamps so this project will work. (PETA)


6. Read the Christmas story to your kids. Read Luke 1 & 2 (especially 1:26-38 & 2:1-39).


7. Light Advent Candles: visit blog entry below "Candle Lighting in Advent" for verses, readings and instructions.


8. Have everyone clean their room and storage spaces and select items to give away to someone(s) in need. Apply the rule, “if I haven’t used in the
past year…” (EVERYBODY)


9. As a family, select someone or a family that is experiencing need this Christmas. Brainstorm a way to give to them and then do it as a family.
(Examples: Help an elderly decorate their house. Shovel snow. Together, buy a gift or grocery’s for them.) (EVERYBODY)



Additional Ideas…


Drive neighborhoods with Christmas lights on houses, bring along some hot cocoa or coffee in a thermos or stop by a Starbucks. Enjoy.


Decorate a gingerbread house(s) as a family project. Even if you don’t “do crafts” the kids will appreciate and remember this one for a long time.

Find a ready to make ginger bread house at a grocery store.

If you’re gutsy and daring (and a cook) find recipes @ … http://familyfun.go.com/recipes/special/specialfeature/holiday_cookies_ms/


Tell your children your family’s Christmas traditions. The funnier the better. The more serious the better. Start some of those traditions. Check out
some @ http://www.babycenter.com/refcap/baby/babyritual/9837.html

Read the Christmas story to your kids. Read Luke 1 & 2 (especially 1:26-38 & 2:1-39). 


Go to a Nursing home or visit someone who can’t get out and sing hymns and Christmas carols. You’ll often get more than you give.


Build a fire outside and simply be and enjoy God’s creation. (EVERYBODY)

Need more ideas go to http://familyfun.com/

Friday, December 12, 2008

Living on One-Buttock

Ealier this week, I did a post around Malcolm Gladwell’s insights from his recently released book Outliners. Part of his thesis explores the various ways in which our culture squanders talent and human potential. Benjamin Zander is another individual who has much to say about human potential. He has dedicated his life to “pulling out” and developing aspiring musicians to excel beyond the status quo. Zander is the conductor of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra. He has some inspiring and provoking thoughts on our view of the world, possibility, leadership and personal transformation.

Zander contends that many people in the world approach life from one of two vantage points. One group sees the world as a place of “the downward spiral”. Regardless of the situation, they are predisposed to see what’s wrong. The other, look at the exact same circumstances, yet conclude that this is a situation of “radiating possibility”.


He shares the following story in regards to our view of situations.


There once were “two salesmen who went to Africa in the 1900s: they were sent down to see if there was any opportunity for selling shoes and they wrote telegrams back to Manchester. And one of them wrote: ‘Situation hopeless. Stop. They don’t wear shoes.’ And the other one wrote: ‘Glorious opportunity, they don’t have any shoes yet.’”

Recently, Zander gave a presentation at the Pop! Tech 2008 conference. It is a brilliant presentation! It is one of the most passionate, authentic and inspiring presentations I can remember seeing in some time. He models what it means to give way to your passions and do what he calls “playing on buttock.”

It is not enough to know a piece of music intellectually. It is not even enough to play it without any mistakes, which is all most ever aspire to. Zander says that beyond the notes of the page, you have to convey the true language of the music emotionally. Something happens, Zander observes, when a musician goes beyond the notes and the score on the page and begin to play the music from the heart with emotion. Such playing deeply moves the audience. When the music flows through a musician like this, it begins to take over their very bodies, they sway, they move side to side and back and forth, there’s a rhythm and a groove. As they play, their bodies lean, even to the point of being on “one buttock.” They become “one-buttock players.”

In doing so, one allows the music flow through their bodies, causing them to lean and to move from one buttock to the other. If you’re a musician, or making a performance of virtually any kind, and you are totally in the moment and connecting with the language of the music and the audience, there is no way you can be a “two-buttock player.” You’ve got to move, you’ve got to connect, and you must not hold back your passion but instead let the audience have a taste of the commitment, energy, and passion you have for the music. To play on “one-buttock” means we allow ourselves to give way to God-given passion(s). This doesn’t only apply to musicians. It applies to all of us.

“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy,
a quickening that is translated through you into action,
and because there is only one of you in all of time,
this expression is unique.
And if you block it, it will never exist through
any other medium and it will be lost.
The world will not have it.
It is not your business to determine how good it is
nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions.
It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly,
to keep the channel open.”

~Martha Graham quoted in
The Art of Possibility by Benjamin Zander

Each of us has a choice.
We can give way to passion and live on “one-buttock” or we can hold back, aim not to make an error and play life on “two-buttocks.” One life is lived in mono black and white, while the other resounds in full colors and stereo surround sound. One is safe, the other is risky. One is dead and decaying, the other is alive and vivrant.

As Ben Zander
said to one of his talented students while encouraging them to play it in the “one-buttock” style:

“If you play that way,
they won’t be able to resist you.
You will be a compelling force
behind which everyone
will be inspired to play their best.”

~Ben Zander

Below is Zander’s phenomenal presentation at Pop!Teck 2008 given back in October.


Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Outliners: The Story of Success

Have you ever wondered why some people succeed and others don't? What causes a person to become truly extraordinary? What role does environments play into this? What role does one's own choices affect this?

Just before Thanksgiving, Malcolm Gladwell's new book Outliners: The Story of Success hit the bookstores. The aim of the book revolves around the question, "what separates extraordinary and average people?" Gladwell explores various ways in which we're squandering human potential everywhere from the football field to the classroom - and what we can do to change it.

The following is a presentation given by Gladwell at the Pop!Tech 2008 conference this past October. In it he introduces the ideas found in Outliners.




What are your reflections to Gladwell's presentation?

I wonder how this could influence our understanding of spiritual formation and how environments could be designed to intentionally see people fulfill their God-given purpose for their lives.

Monday, December 08, 2008

What's in a Name?

Yesterday, in the context of our Christmas Series Navel Gazing, we talked about the power of "names." We all have one, some of us like ours, some of us don't. Most of us went through some phase as a child where we wished we were named something else.

I remember one day riding in the car with my mom. I must have been about eight or nine years old. I piped up from the back seat and said, "Mommy, I want my name to be Chris." I'm not sure why I choose this name, other than I had a friend named Chris. Sometimes, it seems, we think if only we bore the same name as another, we would instantly be like them. Interestingly, this type of thinking doesn't cease with childhood, rather it follows us into adulthood, only we graduate from names to clothing brands, car models, houses and neighborhoods.

When the angel came to Mary, he was very specific about what she was to call the child to be. "His name shall be Jesus," the angel declared. The angel had very specific instructions regarding the child's name. For in the name, was a prophetic foretelling of His destiny. It spoke of purpose, calling and substance of life. Notably, throughout all of the Story of Scripture names are significant. Names of people places, even things bear meaning and purpose beneath the surface of the speaking of the syllables.

Often, even today, in a society and culture that often thinks very little of the meaning or etymology of a given name, the meanings of those given names still bear meaning in one's life.

Do you know what your name means? Do your parents? Did they name you what they named you because they knew what your name meant and sensed it would somehow connect to the unfolding of your life?

At the risk of over-spiritualizing matters, for my wife the act of naming our children has been extremely significant. We value the Hebrew culture (and others) that see names as apart of one's make up. We spent considerable time praying for each of our children while they were in the womb. We sought to discern their temperament, their make up, as well as some of God's desires for their life. We by no means got it all nailed down, but for each of them, we gained a greater sense of understanding and insight into their general make-up, temperament, inner-drives and areas that God may very well move them into. As such, we prayerfully looked for names with etymologies that resembled those very things. These names serve to remind us to pray, how to pray and to endeavor to be intentional about raising, training and nurturing each of them uniquely as an individual.

Many of us have picked up "names" along the way. Not those known as our "first" or "last" name, but the internal names we've given ourselves based on our perception of events, circumstances, relationships and family interactions. Often these names flow counter-current to the purposes and calling God has for our lives. These names and labels attach themselves to our minds, body and souls. In these cases, like Jacob, God wants to give us "a new name."

The following is Christina Aguliera's song "Beautiful" creatively translated into ASL by D-PAN (Deaf Performing Arts Network). It powerfully and vividly demonstrates the power of names.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

The Gap between Christ and Culture

Recently as a staff, we've been dialoguing about God's intended design for the local church within the community it is located. We have envisioned, re-envisioned, brain stormed, mind-mapped, debated, disagreed, agreed, prayed and raked through passages of Scripture over this question. It continues to be a shaping influencer on the development of the church we believe God has called us to be.

Kary Oberbrunner in his soon to be released book The Fine Line: Re-envisioning the Gap between Christ and Culture, makes a thought provoking observation.

“Every generation
must answer the most basic ethical question of the Christian faith,
‘What does it mean to be in the world,
but not of it?’”


As the quote indicates, this isn't a new question, yet it is one that every generation not only has or should ask, but often one that many generations has struggled to answer.

This is The Fine Line. Kary explains,

“...Our difference from the world,
not our similarity to it sets us apart.
But even though Christ followers are called to be different,
we’re also called to transform the world.
Here lies the tension.
We can’t be so far removed from the world
that we lose contact,
and we can’t be so much like the world
that we’re no different from it...”





If you're interested in pursuing parts of this book before it is released, you can download and read a sample chapter here.

Interview with The Fine Line author Kary Oberbrunner

Pre-order The Fine Line

Monday, December 01, 2008

I Need to be Reminded...

About two weeks ago, as I was walking to my desk in my office, I paused in front of a bookshelf and began perusing across a shelf. My eyes stopped on a particular book (The Reflective Life: Becoming More Spiritually Sensitive to the Everyday Moments of Life by Ken Gire). I picked up. It’s a book I read about seven years ago, yet I immediately felt compelled to read it again.

It’s always interesting
to read something again with a gap of several years in between. To notice the comments you made in the margin, to slowly read the underlined parts and then reflect on where you were at during that season of your life. On a number of occasion while doing this I’ve had the thought, “Man… I was so clueless back then…” Often, after these little epiphanies I wonder, “In a few years from now, what will be the things I’ll look back on this very season I’m in right now and say the same thing?” Humbling thought.

C.S. Lewis
once said, "We need to be reminded more than instructed." For me, the essence of this book is one of those core components of living that God is always trying to remind me of.

I am
a creative dreamer. I feel the rush of adrenaline as I’m a part of doing something bigger than myself – something that requires God to come and save the day, as it were. I’ve realized that in the midst of the rush of pursuing God given dreams, I can become unaware of God’s presence in the bringing of the dreams to actualization. This has been very convicting to me. As such, one of my life ambitions is to be more fully present. To live a life that has space for reflection and awareness of God’s present activity in it.

It seems that one of my life messages and a personal longing is for a life that is growing in such sensitivity and awareness. I am learning that one of the greatest moments I can give to God and another is my present attention and growing awareness. I am yearning to live this fast paced life interrupted frequently by sacred moments of slow-motion.

“Over the margins of life comes a whisper, a faint call,
a premonition of richer living which we know we are passing by.

Strained by the very mad pace of our daily outer burdens,
we are further strained by an inward uneasiness, because we have hints that there is a way of life vastly richer and deeper than all this hurried existence,
a life of unhurried serenity and peace and power.”

(Thomas Kelly in A Testament of Devotion)

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Authenticity & Image Management

“There is nothing more winsome or attractive,” writes John Ortberg in Everybody's Normal Til You Get to Know Them, “than a person who is secure enough in being loved by God that he or she lives with a spirit of openness and transparency and without guile.” He continues:

"One of the defining moments in any dating relationship is the first time the man sees the woman without makeup. Makeup is the art of “facial management.” You don’t want to let a guy look at your actual, unadorned face. So makeup is designed to make eyes look bigger, to make lips look fuller, nose look smaller, and hide the facial blemishes and flaws.

But it is not just our physical blemishes that we try to hide. Most of us work pretty hard to conceal the flaws that mar our character."

We learn this art of image management from an early age. Image management is simply trying to appear better to those around us than they really are. Sometimes these means are extreme, and at other times they are simple and very subtle in nature.

Our culture is full of examples. To mask, veil, or alter one’s self and appearance is more common than uncommon. We watch it on television and the movies. We read about it in the magazines and newspapers. We see it on the billboards. Ever since the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve, deep within humans is a propensity to cover ourselves up – to wear make up.

John Eldredge sums it up well in Wild at Heart, comparing the way we veil our true selves to how Adam and Eve concealed themselves behind the foliage in the Garden of Eden: “We are hiding, every last one of us. Well aware that we, too, are not what were meant to be, desperately afraid of exposure, terrified of being seen for what we are and are not, we have run off into the bushes. We hide in our office, at the gym, behind the newspaper and mostly behind our personality. Most of what you encounter when you meet a man is a facade, and elaborate fig leaf, a brilliant disguise.”

Authenticity draws us out from behind the trees and causes us to drop the "fig leaves." It poises us before the One who created us and loves just for who we are. It is out of that acceptance with God that we interact with humanity. It is out of that posture that we no longer have to try to "appear" better than we think we are perceived, we can simply be who we are and becoming....

The following is a recent message given at SouthGate Church regarding God's intended design for us to interact with Him and one another authentically.

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Boy in the Stripped Pajamas...

Every once and a while I come across a movie where upon watching the preview, something inside of me says, "I have to see that movie."

The Boy in the Stripped Pajamas is one of those such movies. It was just released in the theaters this past weekend. Though with lament, it is not (yet) in the michiana area...

Below is the trailer for the film.




A Brief description and backdrop to the film.

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is a fictional story that offers a unique perspective on how prejudice, hatred and violence affect innocent people, particularly children, during wartime. Through the lens of an eight-year-old boy largely shielded from the reality of World War II, we witness a forbidden friendship that forms between Bruno, the son of Nazi commandant, and Schmuel, a Jewish boy held captive in a concentration camp. Though the two are separated physically by a barbed wire fence, their lives become inescapably intertwined. The imagined story of Bruno and Shmuel sheds light on the brutality, senselessness and devastating consequences of war from an unusual point of view. Together, their tragic journey helps recall the millions of innocent victims of the Holocaust.

There is also a free Discussion Guide that is loaded with heart penetrating conversation pieces around social justice, race and the essence of humanity.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Being Solved...

Those of us who live in the western world are often fixated on our incessant impulse towards resolution. At the movies we shake our head with clenched teeth if the story ends to illusive and without concise conclusion. We have to know whether or not "she" went back to the "other guy" or whatever other loose end is left for our imagination to rumble upon. We are infatuated with the Answer...

We forget that life often finds its next fresh breath in the asking of the question rather than the recounting of the answer. In our shortsightedness, we try to rush in to fix and SOLVE the problem, all the while unaware that the problem wasn't what needed to be fixed or solved - we were. Wisdom begins in the understanding that (most) problems are meant to solve us.

In times of crisis and testing, we are prone to look for a way out before we get crushed underneath the circumstances, when all the while the actual trial is looking for a way in - a way into the depths of our being through the cracks in our souls in order to make us complete and whole, lacking nothing (See James 1).

The heart of the Story of Scripture is birthed out of a reality that God is a loving, pursuing passionate God, who is intimately interested and present in our midst moving, drawing and compelling us closer to Himself. He is longing for us to see, as Richard Foster brilliantly penned, for us to see that God isn't merely a part of our story, by we are part of His life. (Prayer: Finding the Heart's True Home).

As such, trails (circumstances, suffering, etc) are not merely another hurdle to remove, crisis to control or problem to solve, rather it is a journey to endure embedded with faith from God's past activity and hope in the fulfillment of His future promise(s).

Therefore, perhaps the most productive thing a SD can is crawl in the casket of that which is dying and wait in expectation for the creative healing and transformative power of Christ to emerge...

While there the prayers we pray, the essence we release and movement we propel is one that echos the words of Frank Lake, who writing of human suffering and the malady of the human condition being said there is nothing that we experience that cant be "battered into a meaningful shape" by the Hand of Grace & Love. We simply lie (or kneel) there in the casket. It is in this place that we become "crucified with Christ." It is also in this place that we will experience the "power of His resurrection."

Perhaps, the next time we find ourselves prone to fix, solve or simply remedy our present situation, we'd be better off by first pausing long enough to ask, "God is there something inside of me you are trying to 'solve'?".

Monday, November 10, 2008

unLearning...

"Half of learning is learning," writes Mark Batterson, in his book In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day. "The other half of learning is unlearning. Unfortunately, unlearning is twice as hard as learning. It’s like missing your exit on the freeway. You have to drive to the next exit and then double back. Every mile you go in the wrong direction is really a two-mile error. Unlearning is twice as hard, and it often takes twice as long. It is harder to get old thoughts out of your mind than it is to get new thoughts into your mind.

If you study the teachings of Christ, you’ll realize that learning wasn’t his primary goal. His primary goal was unlearning. He was reverse engineering religious minds. And those can be the toughest minds to change. That is why two phrases are repeated over and over again in the Sermon on the Mount. “You have heard that it was said…”, “But I tell you…”

This seems to be especially true in the most significant arenas of life: family, relationships, our spirituality and most certainly church.

What are the things God is currently trying to help you "unlearn"...?

Friday, November 07, 2008

What if Starbucks Marketed Like the Church? A Parable.

"Have you ever tried really hard to make a point and when people say they get it, you are just not sure they do?" This is a question posed by some folks at Beyond Relevance. They are talking about the disconnection that often exists between what we do and the people we're trying to reach.

They continue, "sometimes it takes us seeing our world through new eyes--something that it is hard to do as believers. Sometimes a little bit of juxtaposition does the trick... Sometimes it takes seeing something in a different light to really get it. With this thought, my team and I made a little video called “What if Starbucks Marketed Like the Church? A Parable.”


Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Faith in the Midst of Fear...

Two of my heroes are Jim and Susan Nelson.

When I think of consistency, generosity and a demonstration of what it means to live life missionally, on purpose and with intentionality, I think of Jim and Susan. Recently, someone was murdered in an apartment building they own. This is only one of quite a few murders that have taken place in our city recently. In a time when many would shutter in fear and look for ways to "board of the windows," Jim and Susan simply seized the opportunity to release peace and hope into the lives of those living in and around this apartment building.

The following video clip is a segment that ran on a local news station last night.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Presidential Election Made Easy...

Tomorrow is the day...

The day all the preliminary mudslinging will end. Though there will no doubt be a good bit of backwash and blame-shifting, soon the rubber will hit the road and the person with the most votes will begin to emerge with an actual manifestation of what's been inside all along. The challenge with debates is just that, they are debates. The primary objection seems to gain status in the polls, while downplaying the alternative candidate, rather than transparently communicating what they actually stand for and will do once in office. If only we could read between the lines and see beyond the smiles...

Wouldn't be nice if this whole campaigning deal was less of a debate and more of a dance? Perhaps, during this visible manifestation, what resides inside would be brought out into the light of the dance floor. What if it were as easy as watching "Dancing with the Star"? And our votes won were not merely the result of pre-scribed teleprompter rhetoric, rather the authenticity of character stepped out on the dance floor of life...?

May the prayer of Job become the prayer of the current Presidential candidates:

"If I have walked with falsehood
or my foot has hurried after deceit—
let God weigh me in honest scales
and he will know that I am blameless—
if my steps have turned from the path,
if my heart has been led by my eyes,
or if my hands have been defiled,
then may others eat what I have sown,
and may my crops be uprooted."
(Job 31:5-8)

And may God be active with the tomorrow's winner as the writer of Proverbs declared,

"In their hearts human beings plan their course,
but the LORD establishes their steps."
(Proverbs 16:9)

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Crossing the Threshold - Great Floridian Half-Ironman Triathlon

It was about a year-and-a-half ago that I sat in my basement with my dad watching the Ironman Triathlon World Championship in Hawaii. At the time I was in peak training for a marathon, spent quite a bit of my time thinking about training and endurance. The Ironman is the ultimate endurance sport. You begin by plunging into the water for a 2.4 mile swim. After emerging from the depths, you immediately make your way to the transition area where get you bike and gear, jump on the saddle and head out for a 112 mile spin, only to return to the transition area, put on the running shoes and jolt out for the last leg – a 26.2 mile run. Throughout high school and even college as I competed in cross country, I stood intrigued, curious and in admiration of someone engaging such a grueling day of physical exertion and mental challenge.

As I sat on the floor, that particular Sunday afternoon, I once again had the thought that I had had years earlier – “I would love to do something like that.” This thought was quickly followed by something to the effect, “I’m training for a marathon/26.2 run, but could I do that after all the swimming and cycling…? Further, could I even do the swimming and cycling part to even get to the part I can do, i.e. the running?” The mental conversation soon ended as I probably unconsciously concluded I could never do such a epic exploit.

This spring, once the snow, ice and signs that we were soon coming to the end of another artic Northern Indiana winter, I laced up the shoes and began training for a season of road (running) races that would conclude with a marathon in October. It wasn’t long before my intentions shifted, significantly. A conversation with a friend, some unearthing of old desires, and an emergence of new impetus to push myself beyond the threshold of what I’ve ever physically attempted. Something that would require perhaps a greater amount of intentionality, planning, training and effort than had previously been exerted.

Last Thursday served to finish up 7 months – 30 weeks – three-hundred-and-fifty some hours of training, as my dad and I loaded up and drove from North Carolina to Florida for the Great Floridian Challenge – Half Ironman Triathlon.

The Great Florida Challenge is a1.2 mile swim, followed by a 58 mile bike ride through Sugar Loaf Mountain, followed by a 13.1 mile run. The trek took me 5:28:43.

Something significantly happens when we push ourselves beyond the thresholds of where we’ve been before. This is true whether it’s physically, mentally, relationally or spiritually. What’s more amazing is how each of these areas of our life influence and interact with other areas of our lives – we are one.

I’ve found that something happens to my mental and spiritual outlook during these seasons of intense and intentional physical training. Yet, isn’t it astounding how often we can so easily settle in to the status quo of life with the numbing effects of a mediocre existence?

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Whole Story & Five-Minute Devotions...

Finding a good Children's Bible can be very difficult. That is, finding one that actually portrays and walks through the storyline of Scripture, rather than arbitrarily selecting novel bible stories that make for great flannel board display, but are often highlighted in such a way that actually does a disservice to the over arching narrative of Scripture.

Unfortunately, the predominate model(s) used in the average Children's Bible, as well as most Sunday School and Children's Curriculums used on Sundays are often bite sized Bible chunks of individual stories that are disengaged from the larger Scriptural Storyline. As result, we learn niffy "morals," which have a place, about select Bible characters, but fail to make the connection of how that particular character, as well as the aforementioned story contribute to the dealings and pursuit of God with humanity.

Each night for the past couple of years Micah and I read through the Story of Scripture. We take about fifteen minutes each night. There are two particular children's Bibles that we use, one of which actually does a great job tracking through the narrative as a whole without irrelevantly getting stuck on the "popular" stories. We've gone through each of these Bibles at least five times.

Last month, after finishing another round through the Bible, we picked up something new off the bookshelf. A book recently given to us (Naylah actually) by Charissa's parents. It's probably the best children's devotional I've ever read. The author of the Five Minute Devotions for Children: Celebrating God's World As a Family, Pamela Kennedy explores the temperament and make up of various animals. She looks at how the act and interact, as well as other interesting tid-bits of their development process. She then relates that to our walk with God with a few thoughts and several questions. I've found the questions to be simple, yet they've provided a great spring board into deeper conversations with Micah about our walk with God and a host of other things... If you're looking for something to read with your children, this could be well worth the time and money...

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Wordle Reflections...

Wordle is an online means of "generating 'word clouds.'" It's simple. You provide the text, and it generates the text into a "word cloud."

The clouds give greater prominence to words that appear more frequently in the source text. You can tweak your clouds with different fonts, layouts, and color schemes. The images you create with Wordle are yours to use however you like. You can print them out, or save them to the Wordle gallery to share with your friends. Below are two that I created in about three-minutes.


(Reflect)

These "word clouds" could be utilized as a means of reflection, contemplation or centering prayer. Simply allow yourself to move in and out of the various words, reflecting, letting the words draw you in and then allowing God to move, draw, invite and speak to you through them...



(Philippians 2:12-13)

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Obama and McCain Miss Oppurtunity for Grand-Slam...

By in large, last night's presidential debate was a series of pointing fingers and telling America what the "other-guy" really stands for and plans on doing if elected.

Of course, in between the pointing of the finger and the "you gotta be kidding me" courtesy smiles, there was quite a bit of "When I'm elected I promise to -fill in the blank-..."

For the most part, the questions were all about the economy crisis and war overseas. I suppose we can thank Tom B. for the questions selections...

Personally, it wasn't all that exciting, nor insightful, at least until the last question.

The very last question of the night, in my opinion, was a blank canvas for either of these men to really put something on the table that could set them apart, show them distinct and come real close to at least persuading this voter in their direction.

The question was something to the tune of, "What do you not know, and how do you plan to learn about that...?"

Obama, took this as a springboard for one last jab at President Bush's decision to go to war, along with Senator McCain's backing and then took us down memory lane in an attempt to communicate, "I know what it's like to be poor, etc etc etc..."

McCain, returned the favor, gave a verbal jab and also preceded to take us down memory lane of what it was like to be without a dad around, thus he too could relate to the average bear.

What both of the presidential canidates failed to do was simply answer the question.

"What don't you know....?"
And,
"How do you plan to learn...?"

Perhaps the easiest question of the evening, yet also the hardest.

On the one hand, you have to in humility admit, "I don't know what I don't know..." Which none of us do, at least alone...

But, what was most disappointing for me was, neither of them could (or choose) to tell us how they "learn." How will they as president make well informed decisions? How they plan to bring people to the table with skills that they themselves do not possess. How they as a leader are constantly challenging themselves, what they know and the conclusions they've arrived at to this point. That they know how to resource information and people to discover what they don't know and how it's affecting what they do know...

I simply wish, the would have convinced me they were a life long learner.

This in and of itself would have outweighed all the arm-wrestling, finger-pointing, circle-talking, promising-giving, know-all-the-answers-but-not-saying-anything talking that went on during most of the debate exchange. This, I think was an optimal opportunity for either Obama or McCain to finish the night with a Grand Slam... Instead, two strikes...

Thursday, September 25, 2008

When I Listen to God...

When I am intentional about listening to God…

I expect to hear His voice,

I am more attentive to my surrounds and how God might speak,

I find an increased expectancy for God’s active involvement in my life and world.

I begin to hear more, which results in:

An even greater intentionality, expectancy and attentiveness.

Everyday moments of the ordinary, becomes hotspots for the extraordinary.

This influences how I interact with people, for God’s activity and involvement and purposes may include these people, of which I am more sensitive and attuned to.

As a result:

I slow down more,
I listen closer,
I pause,
I embrace silence,
I hear what’s being said,
I sense what’s behind what’s not being said and
I more acutely discern what’s not being said.

In short, as I increase my intentional posturing before God to be engaged by God, so I become a better listener to those around me…

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Youths Build Ark, Nail Noah’s Story

"Youths Build Ark, Nail Noah's Story," is the heading over the article that ran this morning in the South Bend Tribunes faith section.

You can read the full article here or read below:

Youths build ark, nail Noah’s story

By ALICE CULP
Tribune Staff Writer

This summer, a group of children in kindergarten through fifth grade built an ark.

Of course, their ark does not follow the same dimensions as the biblical version. Noah’s ark, which was 450 feet long, 75 feet wide and 45 feet high, was similar to the size of a modern-day cargo ship. Still, the kids’ model is no toy, measuring 70 feet long, 14 feet wide and 18 feet high.

It sits near the parking lot at their church, SouthGate Church (formerly Calvary Temple) in South Bend.

“We decided that the best way for anyone to understand a story of Scripture was to experience it,” says Jerrell Jobe, a member of the pastoral staff.

The adults at SouthGate did a lot of research on the ark before an architect at Forsey Construction Inc. in South Bend drew a blueprint for them. Then, carpenters in the church helped the kids build it.

On Wednesday nights the kids examined the story of Noah from different angles — the history and culture of the time, God’s promises and faithfulness, Noah’s obedience, etc. Then, they worked on the ark — painting and screwing boards together.

“In the beginning they couldn’t even conceptualize how big the ark was,” Jobe says.

In fact, when they stopped work the first night, the kids didn’t feel they’d accomplished anything.

“We told them, ‘Imagine how Noah felt doing this for 120 years,’æ” Jobe says, laughing. “We wanted them to understand how big the ark really was and … that we believe God has a plan and purpose for each and every person, and this includes children.”

The children caught on quickly.

“They really pondered the question: How can (God) use me to change the world? Some of the responses were pretty astounding,” Jobe says. “They have not just said ‘Hey, this is cool,’ but on their own initiative have started to live out these things.”

Sunday, several of the fifth-graders shared their insights with about 500 members of the congregation during an outdoor service that used the ark as a backdrop.

One girl shared that God told her that he wanted her to go into nursing homes and pray for people. So, she got her grandfather to take her.

A boy explained that God told him, ‘I want to use math in your life to change the world.’ He talked to his teacher and is now set up with a tutor.

Another girl says God is leading her to work with autistic children, including a neighbor. A third girl thinks God is asking her to raise money for kids in the hospital. She and her mother are already researching options.

Now that the ark is finished, Jobe says the church plans to leave it up for about a month. Then they will donate the wood to a good cause."

Monday, September 08, 2008

The Ark - Journey Encounter

All summer long, we've been building an Ark. It started as a crazy idea back in the early spring. We were planning out what we would be doing with children on Wednesday nights through the summer. We wanted to take a story from Scripture that could be engaged over the course of 12-16 weeks.

We wanted to do more than merely talk about the story or even extract great moral principles. We wanted to enter the story. Engage the Story. Become the Story. Isn't this one of the main purposes of Scripture?

So we've spent all summer studying the life of Noah. And, what better way to study Noah, then to do what Noah did? So we built an Ark. It's about 72 feet long, 26 feet high and about 18 feet wide. It's built roughly to a 1/7th scale of the original Noah's Ark.

Today, we wrapped up our summer with our Sunday morning service outside around the Ark. The day included, children sharing how God had spoken to them over the summer as the asked God, "What do you want me to do to change the world?" This is a question we had each child ask God... And, the responses have been mind blowing. Today, three of our children shared specific things God said to them and HOW they have ALREADY began to DO IT... Now that's Awesome! It's one thing for God to speak, it's another to actually begin to do it.

As Warren Buffett said, "It doesn't count to predict rain, it counts to build an Ark." So it is with hearing the voice of God...

Also, this morning Shauna Cameron shared a musical composition she wrote. It's a classical rendition of the complete story of Noah. Have you ever thought what the story of Noah sounded like? We'll, her composition is breath-taking. To help us visualize the storyboard of the song, Jennie Grunseth did a visual mime-drama-dance interpretation of the song.




Children were baptized by their parents...

During the drama Dive people jumped off a 15 foot cross...

And, a live dove was released from the top of the Ark...

In the midst of all this, there was space for us to ask God, "How do you want to use me to change my world...?"

We believe He does... He really does...

Below is a slideshow with a few more pictures of the day.





You can also read about this in the South Bend Tribune or see the News 22's video segment on the Ark.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Training Partner Tragically Drowned

This past Saturday, my trusted training partner unexpectedly and tragically drowned in Barron Lake in Niles, Michigan. Over the course of the past year, this partner has ran over 1,500 miles by my side, raced with me in 5k's, 10k's, 15k's, even the Indianapolis Marathon. This partner has biked at least 1,000 miles with me this summer. This partner has sat pool side, tracking me swim lap after lap after lap.



This past Saturday, however, was my partner's last open water swim with me. It was the first leg of the Niles Olympic Triathlon. The accident happened only four swimming strokes into the race. He was clinched tightly to my wrist as the race began. I plunged into the water and began to swim. Then I felt the dreaded feeling. A feeling I imagined would never hapen, yet a feeling as real today as it was Saturday. The feeling of my trusted partner loosing grip and letting go of my wrist.

Immediately, I dove down into the water, looking for signs of life, but found none. The water was not clear enough and there were too many other swimmers behind me. I emerged back to the surface and in sadness continued the long journey that was before me - only this time, alone.


May this faithful training companion Rest in Peace. My consistent and timely Ironman Distance and Speed GPS Watch. Isn't it ironic that one would lose a watch with GPS? I will miss the navigation, pace and distance readings, along with beeps at the end of every mile completed during a training run.

...This, along with my left shoe that was lost last week in a mud-swamp in Buchanan, Michigan during the Redbud Extreme 5k - not making for a good trend these days...

During last weeks race, my shoe got sucked down into the mud about a foot deep. I was a mile-and-half into the race, with a little over a mile-and-half to go.

Considering that, even if I stopped and able to dig out my shoe, I wouldn't be able to put it back on for all the mud. Further, if I stopped, the chance of getting trampled were significantly high, beings there were quite a few people soon approaching the swamp. The best pensive decision at the time (and to this day), was to not look back, not even a glance. Instead, to look intently on the trail before me, take every step with the left foot cautiously, once out of the trails and back on the road, look for green grass and step on it with the left foot at every chance, not to mention, get as far ahead of the rest of the pack during the next mile-and-half, so as to not have to sprint to the finish for preferred placing.

Fortunately, I managed to dodge, rocks, stumps, trees, pebble, find lots of grass along the road, pull ahead enough to establish a lengthly lead, remain blister free and win the race...

I'm sure it will make for a good story someday for the grandkids.... but today, I could careless about my shoe -- I stinking miss my Timex GPS watch...

R.I.P

Monday, August 11, 2008

Summer Recaps & Reflections from the SouthGate :: Community Experiments

Many are those who can identify needs, gaps and weakness, unfortunately there are significantly less who actually have the wherewithal and courage to begin moving towards change and renovation to see those needs met, gaps filled in, and weakness made strong.

Back in the spring, through a series of conversations, prayer and reflection we as a staff and core leaders identified a need for a greater sense and reality of community. During one of our monthly Core Leaders meetings where this came up, many spontaneously began brain storming how this could happen. The conversation emerged with questions like, "Why do we do what we do on Sundays?" "What if we did 'church' for the adults more like the way we're approaching it for our children?" and so forth.

All of these questions were really asking, What is Church? Do we have to do it the way we've always done it? and, Are there other ways (perhaps better ways) of doing it?

The result of these conversations was a summer of community experiments.

Community is at the core of who God is: Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. We were created in His image to experience and be a part of authentic community. In part, Church is community. We concluded if community is a genuine need, as well as, a very fundamental component to what church is, then it's worth reshaping what our Sunday gatherings look like to create environment(s) more conducive for people to experience and engage in community.

The July Experiment
During our Sunday morning gathering, we engaged in a time of worship, followed by a short message on one of Jesus' parables. We then were encouraged to break up and join in one of three break-out groups, each looking at the parable from a specific perspective: Finance, Family, Future. The goal of these break-outs was one, to help us actually be able to sit across the table from others (rather than all facing forward in the pews) and engage in authentic dialogue and conversation. And, secondly, while in these conversations, to talk about how this parable could be embodied in our daily lives.

The Coolest Idea
One of the coolest ideas and applicable moments was presented week four in the Finance break-out. The parable for the day was Matthew 25/Parable of the Talents. After some talk about the parable, our talents, our money and investing in God's Kingdom, etc. A hypothetical question was proposed: What if someone gave you $100.00 for the sake of investing in God's Kingdom, helping someone, assisting a cause. What would you do? How could it be used? Ideas buzzed, as the room was filled with chatter.

After a few moments, the facilitators announced: "That scenario is no longer hypothetical..." They proceeded to pull out a hand full of one-hundred-dollar bills. There was a $100.00 bill for every person willing to take the challenge, live out the parable in their daily lives. Awesome! Simply Awesome! What a better way to actually experience, understand and begin to incarnate Scripture...

The following is a snapshot at what the break-out groups looked like.



The Feedback
Some loved it... Some hated it... Some love being able to actually talk about what's being said in church, rather than just listening... Others seem to prefer the 3 points and 6 principles that could be extracted from a given passage. Some were challenged to greater authenticity through the venue of honest conversations as they acknowledged their daily lives don't always reflect the essence of the parable, for others talking this was too much of a stretch and impeded on their levels of comfortability. For some, this was church at its best, with community interacting. For others, this is not what Sunday morning church is about.

Conclusion
We have many preconceived ideas about what church is, is not, should be, etc., many of which have no biblical precedence, rather have been the historical constructs over the last couple of centuries.

It would be interesting to see what church would look like with a little deeper biblical exegesis and a more comprehensive understanding of how our current order(s) of service evolved over time throughout church history...

Here's a couple of questions that begin to dig into the matter that were posted a while back on the post Cultural Byproduct or Biblical Prerequisite?
  • What elements of my Christianity are a byproduct of my culture, but not necessarily a biblical prerequisites?
  • What is essential to being someone who "follows Christ"?
  • What constitutes "having church"?
  • Does church have to be on Sunday to be a church?
  • Does there have to be an extended time of worship/music/singing to qualify as a church service?
  • Does the singing that does that worship/music/singing have to take place all at one time, during the beginning of the service?
  • Is the "real" purpose of "worship" to "prepare our hearts for the Word," as it has often been said?
  • Does there have to be a "sermon" for it to be a real service? (Does it have to happen on the back-half)


Thursday, August 07, 2008

Summer Recaps & Reflections from the SouthGate :: Car Show

This summer has been one of the busiest summers I've experienced in quite a while. Though it has been full of a lot of good things, nonetheless it has been FULL. And now, as everyone asks, "Did you have a good summer?" or "How was your summer break?" I find myself thinking, "You mean it's over...?" It's all happened so fast... And by next Tuesday morning, I'll become part-time bus-driver as I transport Micah to Kindergarten. Fall will is now upon us...

With that being said, I wanted to create some space in my life to simply reflect on some of the things that have busied the summer months. Often we can get so wrapped up in the busyness of the moment, that the fullness of that very moment escapes us, or worst yet - never to be perceived in the first place.

As Doug King said, we must "Learn to pause or nothing worthwhile will catch up to you." Much of our lives, like my summer seems to move in FastForward and we desperately need to recover the Art of Living in Slow Motion.

In the Gospels, we rarely find Jesus sitting in the Temple waiting for people to come and listen to what He has to say. Interestingly though, we often wonder why people (who have yet to begin following Christ) aren't coming to church.

In the Gospels, we find Jesus maximizing opportunities at hand. Moments of engagement with people over meals and daily interactions at a well. What does it look like for the Church to engage the culture and world in which it exists? I suppose there are a number of answers to this question, but here's one we've been doing as a church for the past seven. An Import Car Show & Battle of the Bands, known all around michiana as SummerX.

It's an attempt to do what Jesus did in Luke 15, simply get around people and talk.
"By this time a lot of men and women of doubtful reputation were hanging around Jesus, listening intently. 2The Pharisees and religion scholars were not pleased, not at all pleased. They growled, "He takes in sinners and eats meals with them, treating them like old friends." (Luke 15:1-2)
*These few sentences, written by Luke, are packed full of cultural nuances and theological
persuasion, that is just as relevant to us today as it was to the original audience.
For more on this passage see the following posts: One, Two, Three, Four, Five.


SummerX Car Show has become the biggest car show in the area, done with the most excellence and some of the best awards. It's put own predominately by our student ministries department and other volunteers. The goal is to help our students understand various aspects of what it means to live missionally and engage in spiritual conversations. The Mud Monster, pictured here, was my son's favorite, as can be seen as he dangles from the hitch.




The following are some highlights from this summer's SummerX Carshow & Battle of the Bands.