For such a time as this…

Yesterday while a friend & I were waiting for the rest of the (virtual) attendees of our lunchtime Zoom Bible study to arrive, we got to talking about the challenges of navigating the current circumstances w/COVID, quarantine, etc. We commiserated a bit about loneliness, isolation, & the challenges of church, small groups, outreach, & other ministry (service) opportunities during this time where physical proximity (esp. if it is < 6 feet) seems to cause many the heebie-jeebies & all sorts of worry.

And then she made a comment that has been resounding in my ears for the last 24 hours:

“I was all caught up in worry & asking God, ‘Why?’ I don’t really know what it looks like to be in Christian fellowship in the middle of quarantine, or even how to carry on in any sort of ‘normal’ way through this process. But instead of getting worked up or fearful about the times I’m living in, I was thinking about Esther in the Bible & the threats of genocide & extermination she (& her people) were facing. And I remembered what was said to her. It was something like ‘maybe you’re here in the middle of this mess, intentionally, because God knew you were His person FOR SUCH A TIME AS THIS.'”


Her statement really resonated with me. It reminded me that OF COURSE God has not been taken by surprise by the events of 2020, nor have His plans for salvation, transformation, renewal, rescue, healing, & the like been derailed due to COVID, quarantine, 6′ bubbles, & all the fear & speculation that runs rampant.

He knew, & He knows. He is STILL in charge, STILL on His throne.

And God’s people, the Church, are STILL called to be Jesus’ healing presence in the world where we live, to BE & to DO what Jesus would be BEING & DOING if He were walking in our shoes. And for SOME reason, He believes that we are exactly the RIGHT the people to be living as that healing presence in SUCH A TIME AS THIS. Personalizing this:

It’s easier for me to cheer for Esther to take on the challenges of her day, (“C’mon sister! You got this! God has your back, & He’ll give you what you need DAILY to obey Him & put into practice what He’s calling you to do, no matter how scary it might be!”) than it is for ME to BELIEVE, to HAVE FAITH for the SAME input into my own life, for my own challenges that I am facing TODAY, in THIS time.

And then I remind myself that God knew. And He knows. He knows what is needed today & He knows what He’s got to work with by working IN & THROUGH me & my actions. And I get to thank Jesus that His ways & thoughts are FAR above & beyond mine, & that as Lord, He is able to pour out my life where He sees fit. He’s promised to equip me with what I need for each day, & has also promised that He will never leave me alone or abandon me. God created me to live & be where I am for these days we live in. THESE DAYS.

I’m in the process of experiencing something new – a new way of seeing the current world, a new way of seeing myself, w/a new skill set & tool belt to move forward with in serving others in the BEING & DOING... & I’m praying that I will be able  to see things around me with His eyes. I’m asking for teammates to walk this out with, people who recognize & respond to their own call from Jesus, that we wouldn’t shrink back & (continue to) live in fear, but to look how we can respond to Jesus, by grace through faith, for such a time as this.


Reminds me of this exchange between Gandalf & Frodo about the One Ring in Fellowship of the Ring – & how Frodo wishes the ring had NEVER come to him.

The  quote:

Frodo: ‘I wish the Ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.’
Gandalf: ‘So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us. There are other forces at work in this world, Frodo, besides that of evil. Bilbo was meant to find the Ring, in which case you were also meant to have it. And that is an encouraging thought.”


All we have to decide is WHAT to do with the time that is GIVEN to us. And I’m believing we’re here for such a time as this.

Reeds & wicks…

I threw his binder.

We were between classes in Jr High, 7th grade if my memory serves me correctly. I was on the 2nd level of our outdoor campus, heading toward the stairs & there was a commotion… wasn’t sure initially what it was, but as I drew closer, I could tell it was a game of keep-away. I was always up for a good game of keep-away, because they are SO much fun for all involved (except for the person who is having their stuff kept-away from them.) At first, I couldn’t even tell WHO’s book bag was being tossed around, nor who was chasing it. Until I got closer.

It was Zach. He wasn’t a friend or a person I hung out with… we had a couple classes together, but we’d never really talked, & had never hung out. HOW he was chosen to be the one who’s stuff was being tossed around over our heads & up/down the stairs was a mystery. It was just happening. 

At some point, someone popped open the book bag & started tossing the individual books (as if this particular ‘game’ wasn’t already challenging enough for Zach.) He was running around, frantic & desperate (like ANYONE else would be if your lifeline (that’s what book bags were) was being treated so cavalierly 20 feet up from the ground level.

Someone tossed me the binder, just as the warning bell rang. (It seemed like between every class there was a “warning bell” & then a “tardy bell.” You were technically supposed to be IN class when the “warning bell” went off, but you HAD BETTER be in class by the “tardy bell” or there would be detention. But I digress.)

I frisbeed the binder toward a fleeing classmate, over Zach’s head. It came open & ALL the papers, dividers, etc… EVERYTHING that was in it, came out.

The courtyard cleared as all the participants (except Zach & me) ran to their respective classes. The contents of the binder fluttered in the air for an eternity, floating like leaves falling in the fall toward the ground below. It was a mess. Worse, I had caused it.


If the book bag was a Jr Higher’s lifeline, the binder was the heart of the student. It contained all the assignments. All the information & syllabi for all the classes. Extra paper, pens, pencils…  you name it, it was probably in the binder. But not anymore. The contents of Zach’s binder were all over the stairs, some on the 2nd floor, most on the 1st floor & courtyard.  Everyone was gone. Except Zach. And me.

I wanted to run away. This wasn’t any fun. The idea of participating in keep-away sounded great, but its not like 12 year old me thought through the consequences, THESE consequences before I decided to join in the ‘game.’ I didn’t think about the possible mess, the possible damage to books/supplies, the possible destruction of the book bag & binder… I didn’t think about any of it. But now I was looking at the  mess, the mess I helped to make. The chaos of his binder, potentially lost assignments, trouble he could get in from teachers/parents, etc… all rushed into my  head at once. I DID THIS. And Zach just stood there,  looking back & forth between me & the mess. I wanted to ignore him, ignore what I’d done, maybe laugh it off, & hurry to my own class. I wanted to run away.

But I didn’t.


I didn’t run away because I had a nudge. Actually, it sounded like a booming voice in my head – “HEY! Help him clean it up!” So I went over to Zach & said, “Let’s clean it up.”

I don’t think he was expecting this response from one of his tormentors. (It would be wonderful to remove any personal blame for the afternoon book bag fiasco, but that would just be wishful thinking. I was in the thick of it, & I had been the one who’d done the most damage. Without even giving a 2nd thought to it, I had jumped into a mess & made Zach’s life a little bit more unbearable than it already was that day.)


As we were cleaning up the mess, I didn’t know what to say to Zach. He had his head down & was on his knees. He kept clearing his throat, which in retrospect makes me think he was trying his best to maintain a shred of dignity by not crying. Oh man.

I felt the nudge again: “Apologize.” So I did. I said something like, “Zach, I am really sorry that I threw your binder. I had no idea it would explode like that. I didn’t think about the mess it would cause or the problems that having your binder trashed would cause for you.” I  know that I rambled on & on, hoping & praying that he would somehow speak up, interrupt me, do SOMETHING to alleviate my own embarrassment & shame at my actions. He mumbled, “That’s ok,” & kept picking up papers.

“No, it’s not ok,” I heard myself saying. “It’s not ok. It was wrong, it was mean, it was not something I (or any of us) should have been doing, because NONE of us would have wanted to be in your shoes, to have this happen to us. Please forgive me.” He looked up at me & I saw him for the 1st time – hurt, broken, weary, so sad, alone. This wasn’t his 1st time being bullied (that’s what it was) & familiarity hadn’t made it any easier for him to get used to. And then he spoke, “Ok. I forgive you.” He gave me a weak smile, & followed that with, “But you stayed to help me clean it up. Thank you.”

I shook his hand, apologized again, & ran, head down, to my next class. He said he forgave me, even after what I’d done. I didn’t deserve it – but he gave it to me anyway.


When I think back on that incident, I am pained by my actions, my insensitivity, my lack of perspective. I am embarrassed & ashamed that I did something so thoughtless to a vulnerable, obviously in pain individual. Even as a 12 year old, I knew that what I had done was not the Jesus-Way. It seemed that if I hadn’t paid attention to the initial nudge & prompting, I might have gone even further down the road of “having fun” at the expense of others, without regard for them, their value & worth.

Something that ran through my head that day & that has continued to play a significant role in how I engage with people is the scripture that  talks about Jesus & His heart/attitude towards people. It’s the fulfillment of a prophecy from Isaiah 42:1-3. Its says:

A bruised reed He will not break, & a smoldering wick He will not snuff out, till He has brought justice through to victory. In His Name, the nations will put their hope. Matthew 12:19-21.

THIS is Jesus to me – He won’t break me when I’m bruised & damaged; He won’t snuff me out when my flame, my light isn’t catching fire, but just smoking & smoldering. He nurtures, He comes alongside, He helps, He restores.

And that is what  I want to do to. And every time I remember Zach, I recommit myself to be a part of the Jesus-Way.

Someone to look up to…

Thank you to my friend & fellow pastor Matt Messner for the encouragement to resume blogging. I encourage you to check out his writings – he’s a man worth listening to & he lives an example worth following.


As the oldest of 4 boys – each of us 4 years apart –  I always felt a lot of responsibility to set a good example for my 3 younger brothers. Early on, a bit part of the responsibility came via encouragements & instructions from my parents to “make sure to make good decisions, because the boys will do what they see you doing.” And that they did. It was often like an impromptu game of “follow the leader,” as I’d be going about my daily business only to find one (or more) of the brothers mimicking my actions, attempting to DO what they saw me doing. Sometimes, I know they did it just to get under my skin (or was it to get me to pay attention to them & interact with them?) Sometimes they did it because it looked like what I was doing was fun (or was something they didn’t know quite how to do, so they chose the ‘monkey see, monkey do” approach to learning.)

There were people I looked up to as well; people whose actions, words, people & God-interactions, etc. helped to shape what I thought to be normal & prescriptive for what Louie should be & do, both with people & in pursuing relationship with Christ. I rarely gave any thought or intention to the process – it was more like, “I look up to these people, I respect them, & they’re older/wiser than me, so maybe I can learn from them & kinda walk in their footsteps.” But I never had an official mentor.


First time I remember hearing the word “mentor,” was watching the ’70’s TV show “Shazam!” (We watched it because the star of the show grew up across the street from my mom. But I digress.) The Shazam character had an older, trusted friend named “Mentor.” (so much for subtlety.) Mentor’s role seemed to be advising Shazam & his alter-ego in the “why’s” behind choices, values, & practices – he didn’t tell him what to do, but guided him down a path that would help him to develop his own metrics, decision making processes, & rule-of-life. Later on, Star Wars’ Jedi/Padawan learner model emerged as my very favorite picture of what a mentor is/could be. But I never had an official mentor.


In January 2000 I became the pastor of Hillside & in short order, found myself in a huge mess of confusion, loneliness (the kind that comes from not being KNOWN, being new in a new place,) unpaid bills, unclear processes & procedures on WHAT, WHY, & HOW I was to do my nebulous, barely defined job of local pastor. I can remember thinking “I have GOT to find someone or a couple of someones that will SHOW me how I’m supposed to do get out from under this mess, do this job, & care for these people.” You know, a MENTOR. I needed, desperately WANTED a mentor. And yet I had no idea where one could go to acquire one, esp. in such a real/perceived desperate point of need.


And so it happened by accident. Looking for something to fill the silence of my long Mondays of ‘doing the books, paying bills, sorting through & organizing an administrative challenge,’ based on the recommendation of a friend, I sought out the Sunday morning STREAMING ONLINE teachings of some people that I knew from the larger Foursquare family I am a part of. (If you’re interested, the rotation consisted largely of Ralph Moore, Daniel Brown, Jerry Cook, & a few others.

For the most part, these weren’t people that I had really ever had personal interactions with – they were more well-known for many years of faithful & fruitful ministry, esp. in regards to raising up & releasing others into the callings that God had put on their lives. And every Monday, I listened to these guys lead their churches in Sunday worship through various teaching series, & over the next couple of years, I began to feel like I really knew them. What motivated them. Their loves & values & strengths. Areas of frustration, traps & pitfalls they’d discovered over time. I even got to know their families & family dynamics. And not one of them ever knew that they were mentoring me, shaping me, challenging me to grow into what God was calling me to be & do in my own life, family, & ministry context.

In the middle of this time, I can remember praying, asking God to ‘send me a mentor, someone that I could look up to & interact with that would help point me in right directions.” And God answered, “I have. You’re being mentored right now. Listen. Learn. Question. Wonder. Pursue Me in the context of what you’re hearing, what you’re learning & I will guide your steps.”

It was revolutionary for me – at that moment, I saw my own life from a mile-in-the-sky view & saw that God had been working in (& THROUGH) my life for years through the men & women He’d brought into my life, whether in person (like my dad & dear friend Chuck Shoemake) or from a distance, (the teachers I was listening to, Steve Taylor, Annie Herring, & many, many others.)

The funniest part of the whole interaction with God was the very subtle but very real understanding that I came away with – I, Louie, am to live a life of someone to look up to. I am a part of the great challenge given from Paul to the Corinthians, “…follow my example AS I FOLLOW the example of Christ. 1Corinthians 11:1, NIV.)  Instead of trying to find a person to be my mentor, I was to follow the great examples of those men & women in my life who were following Christ… & to expect that there were those that would then use me to do the same.


All of this to say – there aren’t any short-cuts or “7 steps to…” anything that substitute for the process of growing as a disciple of Christ, physically, relationally, emotionally, & spiritually. And if we look around, there are many, many men & women who are someone to look up to, people who are living flawed but exemplary examples of what it means to follow Christ, in their context, on their mission. Look for them. Be one of them. Keep moving forward, & bring others with you whenever you have the opportunity.

 

Yesterday, Costco was beautiful…

Yesterday, Costco was beautiful.

I went shopping at Costco yesterday. It’s something that I find myself doing on a regular basis. Not because I enjoy it so much, but out of necessity. In a perfect world, theBean would be doing the Costco (& other grocery) shopping… because she LOVES it. However, due to our current work/life situation & the fact that her job is much less time-flexible than mine is, I ‘get’ to be the shopper.  TheBean gets to live vicariously through me & my glorious shopping experiences because we use an app called “Wunderlist,” which allows us to create, save, & share shopping lists with each other. And with every item I check off the list & put in my cart, she gets a notification of what I’m doing… as well as a visual of where I am in the store.

What she doesn’t get, however, are the joys that come from people-interactions & people-watching. No. Those are all for me, the fearless “Costco-shopping-in-December-5-days-before-Christmas” guy. Sometimes those experiences are cringe-worthy & painful. Sometimes they are beautiful. Yesterday’s was beautiful.


I raced to the checkout line before theBean could remotely add yet-another item to the shopping list, & rejoiced that there were ONLY 2 carts in front of me. The first belonged to a couple of Hispanic ladies; one of the ladies translated for the other, & then communicated with the checker in broken yet very understandable English. The second belonged to a 30-ish dad wrangling his 2 sons… probably 3 & 5 years of age. It’s not like I was trying to pay extra special attention, or that I sensed that somehow, something incredible was happening. Nope. Just checking out at Costco on a Wednesday, overjoyed at the fact that I’d survived yet another trip into the belly of the beast.

In due time, my trusty cashier took his hand-held scanner & painted every item in & below my cart with flair. I put my Costco card on the scanner & “BOOM!” I’m done, receipts in hand, heading for the car & the Promised Land of the parking lot.

Thing is, I had another line to stand in… the dreaded “after you check out at Costco you have to get your receipt double-checked to make sure you paid for everything &/or got charged wrong” line. And yesterday, the second “double-checker” was helping a woman get her motorized Costco chair/cart up to speed & adjusted to fit her frame. Which left 1 double-checker to do the work of 2. Which meant a long, slow line to get to the Promised Land.

So I waited.

A younger, less-refined, more impatient version of Louie would have been fuming. Places to go. Things to do. Crowds to navigate/avoid. That Louie isn’t around much anymore. He’s not much fun & I’ve learned (painfully) to put him in his place (mostly) before he emerges & makes life more challenging for all who get the privilege of experiencing him. (Hopefully I’m becoming more like Christ, one step at a time…)

And then I heard the older boy that had been in the cart in front of me asking his dad questions.

NOTE: As a rule, I pay attention to little kids when I see them out in the real world. Part of it is all the fun & joy they bring in to the world, fun & joy I see (just about) every day at theBean’s preschool. Part of it is that kids get marginalized & ignored a lot of the time, & I believe it makes a difference if you acknowledge them as miniature humans when you encounter them. Sometimes they’ll surprise you.

The questions flowed rapid-fire in true 5-year old fashion:

  • KID 1 – “Daddy why did that lady speak a funny language?”
    • DAD – “Probably because she learned her language first & hasn’t gotten a chance to learn ours yet.  It’s called ‘Spanish.'” (KID 1 repeats it to himself, “Spanish.”)
    • DAD – “God made all sorts of people in all sorts of shapes & colors & sizes that speak all sorts of languages. Our language, English, is just one of them.”
  • KID 1 – “But the other girl could kinda speak our language. Better than him,” (pointing at KID 2, little brother).
    • DAD – “She probably has worked really hard to be able to do that… & I bet the more she does it, the better she will get at it. Wasn’t it sweet that she was helping the other woman so she could shop at Costco today?”
  • KID 1 – “Yes. But it makes me sad that the other lady couldn’t talk. What if she didn’t have the other woman to help her?”
    • DAD – “That would be sad. Sometimes God will put people in places to be able to help, & I bet He might even put someone at Costco who could help that lady if her friend wasn’t there.”
  • KID 1 – “I wish we could help next time.”
    • DAD – “I could… I can speak some Spanish.” KID 1 is over the moon, blown away by the fact that HIS DAD could have helped. 
  • KID 1 – “Daddy I WANT to learn Spanish too. So I can help. Can I learn Spanish too!”
    • DAD – “Yes you can – it might be hard, but you can do it.”
  • KID 1 – “I don’t care if it’s hard. God will help me, because I KNOW He wants me to be one of His helpers.”
    • DAD – “That’s great, buddy! He will help you. And you CAN be a helper.”

At this point, we’d reached the double-checkers, & his cart was summarily reviewed & released. Then mine was. I pushed my cart to the car, while tears ran down my face, making it a little more difficult than normal to navigate the brisk & bright parking lot. Turns out I was parked next to the Dad & his 2 kids. We both loaded our goods into our respective cars & then I took my cart back to the cart return. He was (attempting) to get both boys into their carseats & finding it to be a challenge. I asked him, “Hey, can I return your cart for you?” I could tell from his expression & his obvious relief that he hadn’t even considered that yet, & he expressed his appreciation at my small gesture.

When I got back from returning the cart, he was JUST finishing with the boys & had JUST gotten the back doors shut. He said, “Thank you. Shopping with the boys is an adventure. This is our third store of the day already, & I bet if I’d gone alone I could have been finished with everything in 90 minutes. Here we are on Hour 3…”

I smiled & encouraged him, “The time with your boys is worth it. And while you’re doing the shopping, you’re shaping them to be good men who look to help others & trust God will give them what they need to do it. Good job, Dad!”

With a wave & a handshake, we parted ways.

Yesterday, Costco was beautiful.

You have purpose!

This Advent season, I’ve been using a friend’s book, “ADVENT Encounter” as my guide… Each week of Advent is marked by a different theme, with this week’s theme being PURPOSE. I really resonated with the premise that no matter WHO we are, WHAT we do/our job title (or lack thereof,) or HOW mundane, insignificant, or blah our lives seem, we ALL have purpose.

In the story of Jesus’ birth, one of the places this pops up is with the shepherds tasked with caring for their sheep in the open pastures by night. Who were the shepherds? Traditionally, shepherds were the one’s in the family structure that could be spared for the mundane labor of caring for sheep. This included the very young, the old, & others who weren’t needed for more ‘vital’ family jobs… low man/woman on the totem pole got this job.  (For example, the story of David’s being anointed as king, found HERE, comes to mind. When the prophet Samuel asked David’s father, Jesse, to gather ALL his sons for a special meal & celebration, he brought everyone. Everyone, that is, except David, the youngest, the runt. He was left out tending the sheep. He wasn’t thought to be significant enough to invite. You get the picture. David ended up being the very one that Samuel was there to anoint.)

The shepherds in the story of Jesus were in the middle of nowhere outside the sleepy town of Bethlehem when they saw the angelic hosts declaring “A Savior is born here today!” THEY were the ones who God chose to announce His Good News to, & they were the 1st to greet baby Jesus & His parents, & to share that news with others. They had a purpose, a God-given purpose, something that didn’t depend on their social standing, their real/perceived intelligence, or how well they were/were not regarded by others.

My mentor used to say, “There are no unimportant roles or jobs in the kingdom of God.” See, God doesn’t rank our importance the way much of society does – it’s not about our accomplishments, wealth, job title, academics, etc… it’s about our willingness & availability to God. Personalizing this, EVERYTHING I do is significant, because of WHO I’m doing it for. Ephesians 1 references how we live, work, & play for the glory of God –> pointing to Him in & through everything we do. When I’m cleaning the toilets, I’m doing it to the glory of God. When I’m serving in a place of special significance & honor, I’m doing it to the glory of God. The venue might change, but the motivation behind it doesn’t. I have purpose – to bring glory to God.

This ADVENT/Christmas season, I want to encourage you to consider this: BE & DO what Jesus would be BEING & DOING if He was walking in your shoes. Your purpose is clear: BE a blessing; DO good; LEAVE peace in your wake: & SHARE God’s Good News when given the opportunity.

Valentine’s Day, families, & other musings on a windy Wednesday…

I forgot it was Valentine’s Day today. Ouch.

TheBean & I have been on the road most of this week, & just rolled into the driveway last night in time to grab a quick bite, check in with granddaughter Mila, & head to bed.

So when I woke up this morning, I had (literally) NO idea what day of the week it was, let alone the date. To my credit, I DID know it was (probably) still February. Went through my “morning coffee & Lara bar routine,” followed by about 10 minutes of wondering whether I’d taken my vitamins yet (there are 6 involved in the daily routine, & it has become so routine, I forget if I’ve taken them approx. 10 seconds after gulping them all down. I need a system, like an “X” on the calendar. But I digress.)

Anyway, by the time I realized it was Valentine’s Day, it was already 2 hours into the day & I’d interacted with theBean several times already. Gotta say I wasn’t too worried about theBean being hurt or upset at this point, as A) I know she doesn’t really pay attention to dates/holidays; B) she is in as much of a brain-jumble as I am.

But still.

So… several hours into today, I asked myBean, “By the way, will you be my valentine?” And she smiled at me, & said, “Yes.” And gave me a big hug to boot. #winning #HerLoveLanguageIsQualityTime #ActsOfService


At Hillside, we’re in a series about growing in Emotionally Healthy Spirituality (loosely based on the principles of the book by the same name by Peter Scazzero. You can get it HERE. ) Last week’s message addressed the significant impact our families (defined as the 3 generations before our birth) can have on us, either positively or negatively.

For example, some negative family traits that could be passed down to us to the point where they become “just how we roll:”

  • abuse (physical, emotional, sexual, etc…) out-of-control anger; addiction/addictive behaviors; unfaithfulness; lying; favoritism; broken relationships;
  • financial instability/extremes; materialism; lack of grace, forgiveness, love; inability to grieve loss/disappointment
  • weird spirituality; lack of emotional connection/stability/balance
  • racism, discrimination; sexism; unhealthy attitudes/practices towards sexuality

You get the picture. Rarely do we do the digging into our own families of origin to look at the positives/negatives of the peoples’ lives that were lived & then passed down to us. We often don’t examine the sinful/destructive behaviors of our people, but rather generalize explanations: “Well, we’re Irish, so we lose our temper & drink a lot,” or, “We’re Italian, so if you ever cross us, you should just expect retaliation. And we never forget.”  Worse, we may never see those destructive habits/life-patterns as something we are capable of seeing transformed by the power of Christ in our lives.

With that said, as a part of my research, I looked for behaviors that could contribute to the creation of ‘healthy family relationships.’ And here’s what I found:

  • The leading contributor to a healthy family? Engaging in patterns of “positive family rituals,” both big (e.g. regular vacations with fun & shared activities – doesn’t have to be expensive, just shared; celebrating birthdays/the significance of each person in the family; how holidays are celebrated “this is the Locke family tradition;) & small, (having a regular “state of the family” check ins; eating a daily meal together, w/o television/screens; incorporating themed meals into regular routine, “Breakfast for Dinner day” etc…)
  • So what do these “positive family rituals” do to help contribute to the creation & maintenance of healthy family relationships? According to research, these positive family rituals build “a shared sense of identity, trust, cohesion, & respect.” 

As I think about this… my kids are all grown & married, with their own families. And yet, theBean & I can still contribute to helping create “positive family rituals” for our kids/grandkids… things like having “family dinner,” special birthday celebrations, hosting grandkid sleepovers (with their own traditions), & the like. It’s never too late to build up our families in whatever season of life they may be.

 

The Gospel & racism… #1

“The question we have to ask is: Does the Gospel, as we currently preach it, have the power to deal with racism?” – John Perkins, Pastor & Activist.

(I came across this in a book I’m currently reading called, “The Way of the Dragon or the Way of the Lamb,” by Jamin Goggin & Kyle Strobel. For more about John Perkins, I’d recommend reading his book, “Dream With Me: Race, Love, & the Struggle We Must Win.” ) In a nutshell, he followed closely in the footsteps of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. beginning in the 1960’s & stood up (continues to stand up) to injustice & racism through a life-pattern of nonviolent resistance, which Dr. King defined as “the courageous confrontation of evil by the power of love of Christ.)


Pastor Perkins experienced unlawful arrests & imprisonments, countless beatings at the hands of mobs & police officers who were professing christians intent on maintaining the status quo of their segregated & stratified society. So his question, “The question we have to ask is: Does the Gospel, as we currently preach it, have the power to deal with racism?” is legitimate & demands an answer. And if the answer is, “No,” then something about how we’re preaching it has to change. Because the Gospel tells how, in Christ, all of the things humanity has used to stratify, to oppress, to create inequity are stripped away. (see Colossians 3:11 & Galatians 3:27,28)


Though I’ve never seen myself as an activist & I definitely am not a fan of (most) all things political, I am greatly disturbed by what continues to happen in our country with racially based inequality, injustice, persecution, murder, violence, & the like. And I want to do something about it. Not in a condescending or tokenistic manner, but something meaningful.

For the last 18 years I’ve served as a pastor to our church. I have tried my best to be faithful to the Gospel Good News, to the message of Christ, to live out the Golden Rule & to encourage others to BE & DO what Jesus would be BEING & DOING if He was walking in their shoes. Looking back, I’ve been Naive. Uninformed. Unaware. So, for the last couple of years, I’ve tried to be more intentional in my informal education & in challenging my own perspectives & points of view. I’m reading books, listening to podcasts, engaging in conversations, & trying to learn, trying to grow, trying to understand more about the continuing troubles flowing from racism & racist attitudes, thoughts, mindsets, & behaviors. I want to try to figure out what I can do to be a part of a solution, to be a help. I believe – anyone can be divisive, anyone can stir up trouble, anyone can tear something/someone down… but it takes intentionality, patience, grace, forgiveness, & more to BUILD & keep building something of worth.


I greatly admire & look up to my dear friend, David, a.k.a Opie for many reasons. One of the most prominent is because over the last 20 years, he has lived out his faith in Christ in practical ways in his job, his community, & his church. And it has led to him being a constructive & helpful voice in his city, as he is leading significant conversations & cultivating understanding between whites & African-Americans in his racially divided city. His grasp of the gospel, in action, gives me hope & an affirmative answer, YES!, to the John Perkins quote/question at the top of this blog.


 

Throughout 2018, I hope to revisit the topic of this blog in meaningful, thoughtful ways – & to find what path I’m supposed to take/keep taking to be able to answer “YES. The Gospel I’m declaring has the power to deal with racism.”

Enjoying the fall, the day after, Retiring, & other musings on a Wednesday…

I was just telling theBean that our current weather is probably my favorite Reno weather. Highs in the low 70s. Lows in the high 40s. The air feels different, a little more crisp, a little sad & longing, as though the Fall is mourning the passing of the Summer. It reminds me of football, my kids, & ramping up to go back to school. It’s New Beginnings, New Life, & the  re-embrace of work. I’m soaking it in, & might just do a fire in the backyard fire pit…

If this wind would just stop.


Its the day after my birthday. Didn’t do a whole lot different than a regular day (except lunch with my parents.) My highlight from the Famous Daves lunch (besides the burnt ends. Those are like beef candy,) was the picture with my dad. It took about 10 takes to get one where my face actually relayed a “happy to be here” look, instead of the (evidently) hereditary RBF that normally is on my (& Owen’s!) face. Love my parents.


Had a couple people ask how  I was doing now that I am “Almost 50.” I’m good. I mean, its not like there’s anything I can do to stop the ever moving sands of time. Tomorrows gonna come, God-willing. And with it, comes aging. My mentor, Chuck, told me one of the greatest epidemics causing issues for people is they really don’t know how to grow old & to embrace the fact they’re getting older. He wasn’t talking about acting old, stopping fun behaviors/hobbies, or anything like that. It is more the attempt to look & be a (much) younger version of oneself, as though the current (& more, um, mature? version isn’t acceptable.)

So I’m trying to embrace it. And the things, beyond my control, that come with getting older. But I’m not going to go sit in a rocker somewhere & stop living life.


Speaking of my parents – a couple weeks back, my dad announced to the church he planted & has pastored for the last 30+ years that he will be retiring at the end of 2017. (You can watch the video about it HERE. Good stuff, especially if you’re in the spot of considering WHEN, HOW, & WHY retirement could happen for you.) He’s not retiring because “he’s toast.” Nope. He’s healthy, got a lot of energy, & has quite a few “at-bats left in him,” or “bullets in the chamber,” or “pick your favorite expression describing a person with a lot to give still.”

No. He’s retiring because he wants to start the clock on the next 30 years of life & ministry in Carson City, a city he loves, a city he has invested his lives & his family in, a city that drew our family there in the 80s like the proverbial Sirens (without the crashing on the rocks part.) He’s going to stick around (at the request of the incoming pastor, the perfect guy for the job, Chris White.) He’s going to teach every once in a while. And he’s going to be sent as a missionary to churches in our area (& beyond) that need a seasoned pastor, a guy whose been through the ringer, who has experienced “the worst” & lived to tell about the mighty delivering, restoring, healing power of Jesus Christ. He gets to be a Sage, a guy to be sought out & listened to in a time where too often the Sages are ignored or passed over as irrelevant for not being the flavor of the month or not having a large enough #twitter following.

I’m really proud of him – & I think he’s a forerunner, an example for other pastors  (in our movement & beyond)  to be able to look to & emulate. He’s giving them an example of long-term thinking & planning, as well as permission not to have to cling to the current role/title WAY after it was time to let it go & pass it on to another. My dad is a living breathing example of a man who knows his role, his significance, & his value on Earth, to his family, the church, & the world, is not minimized because his role is shifting. He’s still going to be “Him.” That won’t change. He gets to be the biggest cheerleader for a people who a) aren’t born yet, or b) are little kids.

And that inspires me.


I’m going outside to sit on a bench & enjoy the Fall weather.

If the wind will just stop it’d be perfect.

A partial list of my favorite ThoughtFormative books… & other musings… pt. 1

Sitting in my office at the end of the workday, waiting for myBean to get off so we can grab some dinner… And I’m thinking about the things that have shaped many of my thought processes & formed a bit of who I am/am becoming. And I coined a new word: ThoughtFormative. I’m looking into trademarking it, but feel free to use it royalty-free for the time being. Try doing that with “3-peat.” Pat Riley (C’mon ! Really?)

Anyway, one of the ‘things’ that have been so ThoughtFormative in my life are books. Books have always been my 1st “free time” choice… & I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wanted to pass some information (or a point of view, or a new idea, etc…) & I’ve done it by giving someone a book. If you’ve ever gotten a book from me, you can know it is one of the Best ways I can think of to say, “I love you. I care about you. This has helped me, & I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.”


So, I’m going to do a very, very, partial list, 5 or so..(consider it part 1?) of the most ThoughtFormative books I’ve ever read… (or of the books that have read me. Dr. Evil face with my pinky curved by my mouth*(I wonder how pretentious that sounds. In my head I picture it more as a little bit funny way to say something & then make a , which would have been preceded by an imaginary mic drop. But I digress.) DISCLAIMER: I am not going to include the Bible on my list. For a similar reason that I wouldn’t include Jesus Christ on a list of “People From History I’d Really Like To Meet:” I KNOW Him. I HAVE met Him. And I talk to Him all the time, & a part of me *double-facepalms  every time I hear a well-meaning follower of Christ say, “I’d really like to have met Jesus…” Maybe it’s that we’re such Thomas’ that we want to SEE, in the flesh… which would make it like really MEETING Him. But I usually keep those thoughts to myself, because when I say stuff like that out loud, I am inevitably misunderstood & thought to be a Pagan & a Judger (both of which are not true. Mostly.) The Bible IS my list – & all of the books on my list point to or remind me of, or illustrate something beautiful, some Scriptural concept, some life-giving way of ThoughtFormative-ness. (Not saying I’m equating my list with the Bible, or claiming these titles are God-breathed. Felt I had to say that.)


The plan is to list a book with one of the reasons I believe it is/was so ThoughtFormative to my life… or a something (or 2) that I immediately think of when I see the book’s title. So here goes:

  • The Chronicles of Narnia – C.S. Lewis – These kids classics from CS Lewis were the 1st real books I can remember reading through. I immediately think of a quote from the 1st book, The Lion, The Witch, & The Wardrobe, in reference to Aslan, Lewis’ Christ figure:  “Aslan is a lion- the Lion, the great Lion.” “Ooh” said Susan. “I’d thought he was a man. Is he-quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion”…”Safe?” said Mr Beaver …”Who said anything about SAFE? ‘Course he isn’t SAFE. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.” Reminds me that Christ is NOT a Christian bookstore bumper-sticker version of Himself, easily grasped, understood, & known in His entirety. He is fierce. He is gentle. He’s not safe & life following Him is anything but… But He is GOOD.
  • The Space Trilogy – C.S. Lewis – I’m struck by how the main character, Elwin Ransom (referred to as “Ransom” 99% of the time,) finds himself in situations not of his own making or choosing where he gets to stand for good & against a malevolent evil. Standing firm is a big theme for me & my life. (Finding out Ransom was based on Lewis’ dear friend Tolkien only makes me love this more.)
  • A Wrinkle In Time – Madeline L’Engle – A phenomenally written book (series) with a conflict of good & evil, where power, intimidation, & hate are overcome by love.
  • The Lord of the Rings Trilogy – J.R.R. Tolkien – I didn’t read these books until I was in my 30s. Now I try to read through these once a year – esp. when I’m traveling. My lot in life, my calling reminds me a lot of Frodo, & is summed up in an exchange Frodo has with Gandalf about WHY he, a small, seemingly inconsequential hobbit, is the one that will carry the One Ring to Mordor to destroy it in the Cracks of Doom: “Frodo: I wish the Ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened. Gandalf: So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.”
  • Love, Acceptance, & Forgiveness – Jerry Cook – This book transformed my (warped/undeveloped) view of Church & the purpose for her existence. It isn’t about building a big gathering. It isn’t about celebrating a few talented individuals. It isn’t a social club. The Church are Jesus’ ministering representatives on earth, meant to guarantee His love, acceptance, & forgiveness to EVERY person encountered. Sometimes people had an issue with this stance, believing the Church instead was supposed to take a STAND for righteousness, making sure to “love the sinner & hate the sin,” etc…  What gets missed in that kind of a STAND, is that people will fall through the cracks because they don’t measure up to be able to enter such an institution. That kind of a STAND makes the Church a little more exclusive, a little more ‘holy’ than Christ intended it to be. (By ‘holy’ I mean the Church not associating with the kind of people with bad reputations & obvious sin issues… the very people Christ came to save.)  Jerry said: “Love is NOT license. Acceptance is NOT agreement. Forgiveness is NOT compromise.” This book started a life-long journey for me, a life of practical, applicable, LIVED OUT Christ-likeness. And one of my life highlights happened on my birthday a few years ago, Jerry told me in front of the church I pastor, “You, Louie, are a little piece of Jesus. And you live this love, acceptance, & forgiveness as good as anyone I know.” I will never forget that. And it inspires me to keep living it.

What books have been the most ThoughtFormative to you in your life?

Offended… by Jesus? & other musings…

Continuing in the vein of my last post, “Who? Me? Offended?” I’m writing about being offended by Jesus. (Yes, you read that last sentence right. Offended. By. Jesus.) “But how,” you might ask, “would it happen that I would be offended by JESUS?” I’m glad you did.

I believe we can be offended by Jesus (God, the Holy Spirit, & God’s Word,) when:

  • We have expectations that aren’t met.
  • Prayers go unanswered.
  • A tragedy strikes us/someone close to us.
  • We’re confronted with the “hard sayings” of Jesus. You know, the passages of Scripture which tick you off. Make you say “no way.” The passages that seem to fly against what we, personally, know & believe to be Right. And Good. And Loving. Sometimes they’re passages about sin. Sometimes they’re about the cost of Christianity. Sometimes we just don’t get it, like the passage where Jesus tells the crowd, “Want eternal life? Eat My flesh, & drink My blood.” Eww. (For the context, look at John 6:22-66 )

In 1Peter 2:4-8Peter compares Jesus to a stone: for some people (those who believe in Him & obey His teachings,) Jesus is the Cornerstone, aka the stone that is used by builders as a reference for every other stone in the structure. For others people, (those who do not believe Him/obey His teachings,) Jesus is called “The Stumbling Stone,” & “The Rock of Offense.” Notice: the thing that determines HOW we experience Christ is what we do/how we respond to His Word. With belief & obedience or with unbelief & disobedience.


There are several passages in Scripture where people get offended with Jesus. Here’s a few examples:

  • Matthew 15:1-20 – The Pharisees: they came to Jesus complaining because His disciples didn’t follow their special tradition of ceremonial hand washing before eating. It really bothered them… And Jesus’ response: “It really bothers Me that you’re NOT concerned with the direct commandment of God to honor your parents. What’s worse, you make up religious reasons to justify it. Bunch of hypocrites!” And they were offended.
  • Matthew 13:53-58 – The people in His hometown: Jesus went home for a visit & continued declaring the gospel Good News, & inviting people to believe & put their trust in Him. You’d think the ample evidence shown by those healed, transformed, etc… coupled with the powerful declaration of God’s truth, with authority, would be convincing. It wasn’t. Their response: “How can this be? We KNOW this guy. We KNOW who His dad was? We KNOW His mom? We KNOW His brothers & sisters (they’re right over there.) No way this guy can be who He says.” And they were OFFENDED at Him, & did not believe. And as a direct result, Jesus didn’t do many mighty works there.
  • Mark 3:1-21 – Jesus’ family: In Mark 3, we hear stories of Jesus healing a bunch of people, bringing deliverance to people oppressed by evil spirits, & calling a group of guys to follow Him, learn from Him, & then DO what He was doing. He went home, the crowds gathered, people followed, & Jesus’ family freaked out. They couldn’t believe what He was doing. And they didn’t see it as good or positive. They said, “We have to take Him & put Him away. He’s out of His mind!

All that to say… It stands to reason – if it hasn’t happened already, there WILL come a time where we will be at a crossroads… where the very edges of commitment to believing in Christ unconditionally are tested, when our own sense of Right & Wrong are challenged by something in Scripture… & how we respond to Jesus (& His Word) in that situation will determine if He will be our Cornerstone or the Rock of Offense we stumble over.