And they traveled on for a day thinking Jesus was in their company…

“…which is kind of like most of us. Maybe even like our whole tradition. We travel on for a couple of centuries thinking Jesus was in our company and we look around. “Where is he? I thought he was with you.”

Thanks, Renae Loring, for prompting me to watch this gem from Bart Tarman

“…Jesus was in the temple, but he was not teaching. he was sitting amongst the elders. He was listening to them and he was asking them questions and they were astonished at his answers. That is the Jesus way. He is sitting with, he is listening to and he is asking meaningful questions of. What if his followers did more of that…”

Mark 10:32, “They were on their way up to Jerusalem, with Jesus leading the way, and the disciples who were close to Jesus were astonished, while those who were behind were afraid.” For the rest of my life, I want to be right up close to Jesus and be astonished. How far back are you following?

Speaking of Jesus – Jay Pathak

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Jay came to our staff meeting to give us some wisdom. Jay speaks about Jesus to people who don’t know Jesus in a way that I find endearing.  I asked Jay to come give some thoughts on this and here is what he said:

Jay’s family heritage: faith was the thing you make fun of. The kind of thing weak or stupid people need, because smart and strong people don’t need a crutch, they just live their life and take responsibility for their life.   After an encounter with Jesus, Jay became a Jesus follower and the a pastor, but still feels somewhat like an outsider to the “church system” and he scratches his head at some of the more bizarre aspects of our “tribe.”

On Speaking of Jesus: “I’m amazed at the great lengths we go to to make people weird in the way they share their life with Jesus.” Jay talked about being a waiter at a restaurant when someone left him a ‘tract’ as a tip.  “Why would you do this?” he asked the customer. The customer replied, “I don’t know, our pastor gave it to us….we have 20 of these and we have to get rid of them!” Clearly the people were in some version of an “evangelism class.” The goal of the class is getting people to share their belief in Jesus, but it actually pushed people away from following God because of how weird and unnatural this makes us.  Continue reading

Faith and Doubt: Interventionist or Deist?

Lately I have been considering faith and doubt through the lens of deism. I recently heard a skeptic share on the “Unbelievable” podcast that churches should downplay their teaching that God is an interventionist and we should instead teach that God is all powerful, yes, but not involved. In the skeptic’s opinion, teaching a deistic God would alleviate the angst that a believer experiences when God does not intervene the way we wish God would.

At my darker moments I have offered an ‘amen’ to that notion, a deistic God would relieve our hearts that too often cry, “God, why don’t you do more?” The problem is, underneath those moments of doubt, I stand on a bedrock belief that God is indeed an interventionist. God is greatly concerned and involved in our lives. Christmas, if nothing else, is the most wondrous of reminders that God intervenes by sending himself.

Immanuel. God is, in fact, near and close.

Skye Jethani wrote a beautiful and wrenching article on this very thing. I have pasted an excerpt below. If you’d like to read the whole article (and you should) you can find it here.

Looking back to that Christmas in 2004, Isaac’s condition did not cause me to question what my faith said about the future. Instead it caused me to question the usefulness of Christianity in the present. I still believed Christ would someday redeem all things, but with a sick and possibly dying child, a grieving wife, and an angry soul, I needed to see evidence of that redemption now. It wasn’t enough for Christianity to offer a hope for tomorrow, my weak faith—like the faith of so many others today—was searching for evidence of God’s power today . That became my prayer. I needed my eyes opened to see that God was with us and the power of his resurrection was at work in the ordinary brokenness of my world. He answered that prayer.

Big T and Little t Trauma

As a staff, we have discussed the reality that we don’t serve in a vacuum.  We are human and the people we serve are human, each carrying hopes, fears and pain. We asked Stacey Blank, licensed EMDR therapist to teach us more about trauma and its effects on us and the people we serve. We gained much from our time with Stacey. Below are some highlights.

Trauma is ‘when what we know and what we feel gets split.’  I love the clarity of that definition. 
Classic clinical definition: exposure to actual or threatened death, serious injury or sexual violence. But now we see that trauma occurs as an exposure to something deeply distressing or disturbing that creates physical or emotional shock
Big T trauma: on this day, this event happened and then an event stays physiologically and emotionally after it is over.  PTSD is when the event or experiences stay for a month or longer.
Little t trauma: getting bullied, coming home from school to an empty home and you fear being left alone.  smaller, perhaps recurring events, but they add up to create a trauma response in you.
Some trauma is of course caused with malicious intent, but many “little t traumas” are not from malicious intent, but they become trauma because of how the person’s brain processes them.
Trauma causes us to believe lies about self and about God and we live out of those beliefs, out of a felt need to protect ourselves. We create our own ‘self salvation strategies’ depending on self to survive rather than God. We make conscious and unconscious agreements with self about others and these agreements become idols that grip us and leave no room for God. Example: someone who holds fast onto fear as a protection mechanism so he or she decides to be afraid of everything all the time, thus ‘protecting’ themselves against surprise. Trying to ‘out fear the fear’ is a technique of self survival or self salvation.   
So many survival techniques actually serve very well when we are children (we don’t have power, we’re trying to navigate an adult world) but they can be strangleholds when we are adults. So repentance then becomes a tool of healing because a person can repent of what they are holding fast to and choose to trust God over trusting self.

Continue reading

TBT: Benedictine Spirituality

In January, I did a two day spiritual retreat at a Benedictine Monastery and came back invigorated for the coming season.

I’ve done many spiritual retreats before, but never one so structured and “other” than what I was used to.  The Benedictines practice the daily office – a rhythm of 7 worship gatherings a day (starting at 4:50am!  Youzers) and they sing Gregorian chant style.

A few observations:

– Monastic life has no parallel in the protestant tradition.  It is distinctly Catholic and was a reminder of just how wide and diverse God’s Kingdom is.

– 4:50am.  Are you kidding me?  It felt crazy, until I came into a beautiful candlelit chapel, chanted 3 psalms in a row and sang inviting God’s guidance, protection and presence this day.  It was the right start to avoid the usual mental “to do” list.

– Benedictine spirituality incorporates repetition and physicality that protestants lack.  3 or 4 times per service, 7 times per day, we bowed and sang, “Glory be to the Father, to his Son Jesus and to the Spirit who resides in our hearts. Amen.”  We sang this at the end of every Psalm and every Hymn.  We sang it in a bowing position to show our subservience to God.  A powerful experience, proclaiming allegience well over a dozen times a day, while bowing down.

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Kevin Colón on Disappointment and Sabbath

Lately at each church staff meeting, we invite a guest speaker to unload some wisdom on us.  This week we hosted Kevin Colón, one of my good friends and one of the most intentional people I know. He spoke on relationships, how disappointment can build intimacy and how his family practices Sabbath in a fast paced culture.   Here is a summary of what he brought

On Disappointment: 
Every relationship we have, including our relationship with God gives us something and/or we give something to and they all have one common denominator: disappointment.
We disappoint others and we are disappointed by others and of course, the same with God. Our ability to process that disappointment can lead to a deeper intimacy in that relationship.
At Kevin’s first meeting with a mentor the mentor opened with, “Well Kevin, first up, I will disappoint you and you will disappoint me.” He was very clear about his humanity.
We have to embrace the fullness of what it means to be disappointed and to disappoint each other, God etc.
Questions to process disappointment:
“Lets go back over the last X years and look at all the disappointments – with each other, with God.  What were our hopes?  What hope was lost?  What does God have to say about it?  What do we say to each other about this?”
Asking what God would say helped shaped what we would then say to each other. It drove how to pray with each other.
Disappointment and hurt can be generated because of the way we file memories and experiences in our mind. Processing disappointment can be a chance to “refile” into the right place of our mind.
The gift you can give each other is openness to disappoint and lost hope.  This keeps your heart tender and fresh for what might come next.
Northumbria Community has a rule of life, like the Benedictines, but their rule is simple:  availability and vulnerability toward God and each other.
This process is important because the key task of a christian leader is putting our heart out there, exposed every day to be available and vulnerable.

Continue reading

The War on Christmas

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Just a brief historical reminder from your friendly local pastor….

The war on Christmas is real. Here’s what happened:

In the days of Caesar Augustus, when Herod was King of the Jews, a baby was born to the most unlikely parents you could imagine: a teenage single mother and her confused, but incredibly honorable fiancé. No one knew about it and no one cared.

Except.

A few regional shepherds got wind of it by means of an angel choir. They paid a visit and were astonished. Then again, no one really cared what shepherds thought back then except for their mothers. Even then it was up for grabs…

A couple of years later some pretty cool eastern mystics stopped by for a visit to this boy. They knew he was the true King and treated him as such. The irony that they were of the wrong religious background is lost on most of us.

But it wasn’t lost on Herod. He heard about the Magi visit and promptly lost his mind, ordering the slaughter of the innocents and accidentally revisiting Jeremiah’s haunting words that Rachel is weeping and won’t be comforted for her children are no more.

I am a father to 3 children. I cannot begin to fathom it.

This little boy king grew up strong in stature, confounding the religious elders all his life, showing that the true way of God is service and love for all: love for neighbor, love for enemy. Self sacrificial love. He taught it. He lived it. He died it. He rose it.

Fast forward a couple of thousand years and Herod is a blip in the history books and a footnote in the DSM IV. Caesar Augustus is a multiple choice answer on a middle school quiz. Jesus is the single most history changing person to ever live. A good deal of humanity in some way or other have discovered the incredible news that Jesus is King and that living under the sovereignty of this King is the true way of human freedom and flourishing. Shalom is how the old timers used to say it.

Herod and Caesar held cultural power and wielded it with extreme prejudice against their subjects. Jesus held no cultural power, but immense divine power and offered it sacrificially for his subjects, for their sake. For my sake.

History would agree it was really no contest: Jesus won the war on Christmas. He reigns today, but in the same way he always reigned: subversive, serving, sacrificing, forgiving, inviting. His yoke is easy and his burden is light.

But Jesus is not at war with a retail establishment and nor should his followers be. The job of a retail establishment is not to proclaim the peace of Christ, the good news that brings great joy.

That’s our job, Christians. We really shouldn’t be outsourcing the bidding of peace to retail. If history is our guide, anytime the church outsources the gospel, the message gets confused. Do we really want our retail establishments proclaiming the message?

Please. Please. Christians. Stop outsourcing the gospel and stop expecting your retail neighbors to proclaim the good news of Jesus.

Instead, learn to love your retail neighbors. Not by boycotts and letters and web rants, or worse yet, by accosting some local barista who is just trying to make 40 cups per hour, hit the store metrics and pay her bills. But by simple courtesy, gratitude and kindness. More listening, less speaking. More care, less heat.

If you do in fact choose to wish your barista a merry Christmas which may be an excellent thing to do, here’s a threat from your friendly local pastor: take a moment to check your heart first. Because if you are wielding “Merry Christmas” as a weapon, then you’re on the wrong side of Christmas. You’re representing Herod and Caesar, not the true King.

May the good news of Jesus and his love revolution infect all our hearts, bursting out of our corpuscles so that a hurting, cynical, exhausted world can know: there is a God. God is for you. God can be with you. Immanuel.

Merry Christmas.

Housing Affordability Downloads

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This morning I’m at Denver Faith and Justice Conference, serving on a workshop panel to discuss challenges and pathways for housing affordability.

For those who would like to download the resources we mentioned, I’ve loaded them to dropbox.  The folder is 52 megabytes and is a collection of presentations we’ve made, articles and statistics.  Click here to access the folder of materials.

For those who follow the blog, the material may be of interest to you.  Denver’s Front Range is in a housing affordability crisis. On the northern side of town, faith leaders are working together to provide pathways into housing affordability to the working poor and others.

TBT: Holiest or Hungriest?

A few years ago I was sitting in a pastor workshop and Larry Osborne was teaching.  Larry, by the way, is the living embodiment of pragmatic wisdom, but I digress.

So Larry was teaching some lessons from 40 years of pastoring and he said, “Pastors:  stop trying to live like a pastor.  Just model a life of a mature believer for your people.”

I knew exactly what he meant.

I was trained in a ministry approach that could be summarized, “be the holiest guy in the room.”  While we were in college we actually had a visiting pastor tell us that if we were in old clothes, changing oil on our car and needed to run to the auto store for more oil, that we should stop, shower, put on a suit and tie before we go to the store because it was important to always look like a pastor in public.

Wha?

Sure, that visiting pastor is a caricature of the problem, but he’s a good example of the temptation to look holy for your people.  This approach causes pastors to either become weird or unapproachable to the rest of the world.  It also leads a pastor into temptation to appear different than they really are.  Such an approach doesn’t lend toward these kinds of complements.  Such an approach doesn’t help everyday people see what a life lived for Christ can look like.

In contrast, Larry is suggesting that we lead not by looking holy, but by simply living for Christ on display for others to see.

Being hungry and hungering after Christ more than trying to become holy, which is Christ’s work in us.

The thinking is, if we’re truly hungry and we’re a display of how Christ fills us, it will cause others’ stomachs to rumble.

I think this is what Paul meant in 1 Corinthians 4:16, when he told the church to “imitate me” and then again in chapter 11, “follow my example as I follow the example of Christ.” Honestly, I was never comfortable with Paul saying this until I realized that what he is saying here is, “I will live a concrete example of a person hungry after Christ.”

What makes Paul really cool is how he then went on to display his hunger:  weakness, sin, slavery, hardship. He put on full display his own shortcomings and therefore his life was the living embodiment of the Power of Christ, Grace of Christ, Tenderness of Christ. Hearing Paul talk about it makes me hungry. It also gives me a model by which to lead.

Hungriest not holiest.