Spiritual fathers & mothers… Monday musings…

Not long ago, I had a conversation with a friend about my age (40+ish. The closer I get to 50, the more 40 seems like another lifetime ago. But I digress.)

My friend, (like me) had been in ‘the Church’ for more than 20 years. And after those many years of active, vibrant church-life, he felt like the Church really had nothing else to offer him. After all, “I’ve been there, done that, learned that, heard that, lived that… And I feel like I’m at the spot in my life/maturity where there’s nothing else in it for me. Nothing else really to learn…” That wasn’t the 1st time I’d had the conversation, & most likely, it won’t be the last. While I think I understand, in theory, what my friend was saying, I think he could be missing something incredibly important: the opportunity to be a spiritual father/father in the faith to upcoming generations of Christ-followers. Here’s what I mean.

Looking back on my life inside (& outside) of the Church, I can point to a handful of men & women, some who couldn’t have been more than 5 years older than me, who invested themselves in my life, people who helped shape me into the man I am today. This (non-comprehensive) list includes:

  • my Sunday school teachers
  • a large number people who attended some incarnation of our family’s small group Bible study over the course of 15 years & took the time to include me in their discussions (Bible & other kids), played catch with me, & generally acted like it was totally normal for an adult to have a pre-teen/teen kid hang out
  • sports team coaches/assistants
  • youth leaders & pastors
  • camp cabin leaders
  • small group leaders who hosted a Bible study group (& fed me & my friends)
  • the list goes on…

In real life, we go through transitions… at one point, we were all completely dependent on others for our care, food, shelter, diaper changing, etc… & gradually, we all go (& grow) through various stages of dependence to become, for better or worse, independent. We get married, have our own families, & then repeat the cycle, except this time with us being mostly on the giving vs. receiving of the care. When we’re dealing with our kids, it’s not like we come to a spot where we think, “You know, I am not really getting anything out of this whole parent thing. Shouldn’t there be something more in it for me…? I’m out.” 

In the Church life, we go through transitions as well… hopefully reaching a point in our Christian development where we are able to give back & pour our lives into others who are still in the early stages of growth & maturity. In essence, we get to give back as spiritual fathers/mothers, without regard for exactly what’s in it for us, or knowing HOW we are going to get something out of it. We get to join with the very Body (the Church) that brought us to the point where we were grown/mostly grown up, mature, not ‘needing’ anything from others. This joining with the mission of the Church can be called a lot of things, discipleship, mentoring, etc… To me, the terminology isn’t what’s important. What matters is that we adopt & ascribe to the Kingdom of God values more than we adopt & ascribe to our American culture of consumerism (a ‘what’s in it for me’ faith.)

I’ve had many, many conversations with young people (translation: people younger than me) who say they don’t have a role model, a mentor, a coach, a spiritual father/mother to give input in their lives. And, they don’t really know how to go about getting one. Which, in my opinion, is one of the reasons why we who have been around the block a few times, who have grown & matured in our relationship with God, have the responsibility to take the initiative & get involved in the lives of others. I’m not saying we start out by introducing ourselves as their new spiritual father/mother, (c’mon: that’s weird.) I’m saying we just do it – in a small group, as a coach in rec-league sports, inviting people over for dinner – & not worry about what title we get/don’t get from them. Call it paying it forward or being on the Giver Team, it is an integral part of the lifecycle of the Christian faith, & we have the privilege of being able to play a role in the lives of others.

And the best part, we DO get something out of that.

 In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak & remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how He Himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ Acts 20:35 English Standard Version

NOTE: I intentionally avoided (or attempted to) the definition of what the Church could/should look like. To me, those are delivery systems, (not the main thing) & the point I am trying to make is, whatever the Church delivery system you’re a part of, take the time to invest in (disciple) others. Someone. Somewhere. Somehow. It makes an eternal difference.

something I came across this morning while waiting for lunchtime to get here…

This morning, I came across these Survey results… I’m a sucker for surveys – even more for stuff having to do with God & church & stuff…

For “Unchurched” People – top reasons for choosing a church are:

  • Pastor/the preaching
  • Doctrine
  • Friendliness of others

    For “Church Attenders” – top reasons are:

  • Doctrine/theology
  • People caring for each other
  • Preaching

    What keeps previously “Unchurched” people in a church?

  • Involvement
  • Sunday School (Kids program)
  • Obedience to God

    The survey wrangler sums it the findings by saying that the doctrine, pastor, friendliness of people, & the fellowship are the most important things, across the board…

    What do you think? What has made you choose/unchoose your church?

    The things that most surprised me from the survey was that the bottom two responses under the “Why do unchurched people choose a church?” were “Worship Style/Music” & “Location.” I guess I’m surprised because most of the prevailing ideas I’ve been exposed to within the church (see the little ‘c’) & in the stream of church would have emphasized both of these… with the Worship Style/Music being at or near the top.

    Makes me wonder – are these ‘prevailing ideas’ (& I’m using those words from now on with ‘quotes’ around them,) just figments in the imaginations of people who are responsible for worship in these churches over-estimating the importance & significance of that part of the church service? Like somehow the music part is a ‘make or break’ item… & because I have my own issues, preferences & involvement, somehow, someway I drank the Kool-aid (or at least was exposed to the Purple Drank) to think that the worship style/music would be more important to others.

    Maybe its that people are more concerned with relationships – being accepted & connecting… along with being able to understand & identify with the teaching… & that its not heretical. Or maybe its just these respondents…

    For me, I’ve never chosen a church to go to really – I’ve always wanted to, but church has usually been something that has chosen me… if that makes any sense.

    Over the years, theBean & I have visited a couple of churches in town – not so much to ‘check them out’ but just to go “BE” somewhere anonymously. I’d like to pretend that I didn’t care that people didn’t talk to me (& I even had my “Hi, I’m really trying” face on.) Or that we seemed to (felt like?) we/I? stood out like sore thumbs… thumbs that seemed to have very interesting people all around & behind them… it must have been, because everyone I/we walked by seemed to be on their way to talk with those around us.

    I haven’t really thought about those “visiting other places” experiences for a long time, probably because we haven’t been ‘out & about’ for a while… but reading the survey & thinking about looking for a church stirred up all kinds of thoughts & feelings… emotions even. Maybe I’ll write a bit about that later…

  • One of my favorite breakfast places is the Squeeze In. It offers all the usuals for breakfast, the biggest omelette menu selection I’ve ever seen, & lunch stuff too. Lately, I’ve been looking for excuses to eat there, & my recent favorite is a #7 – 3 eggs, double bacon, all the cheeses, & nacho cheese on top. Yum.

    Its a locally owned restaurant, with a laid back feel – so laid back that they not only permit but encourage people to write on the walls.

    This Sunday, I was downing my #7, & I heard a conversation going on at the table behind me – a conversation about church. This kinda stuff always catches my ear, & I love to hear what people are saying, talking about, processing on the topic of church… especially when I can do it incognito.

    Let’s just say that the couple at the table must have had a bad experience or 10 – but their summation was that they were SO glad that they hadn’t “wasted” their day at church, but instead had “Squeezed In”… They shared their thoughts with the waitress, & before they left, wrote on the wall. After they vacated their table, I went over & took a picture of what they’d written: (see the picture at right – “Omelettes are better than church.”)

    Made me sad. Made me wonder the specifics of their situation. What they’d endured, suffered, &/or caused… If it was the result of a drive-by, a big blow-up, or a long-term fizzle…

    Led to lots of thoughts about faith -& about growing up, putting it into practice. Thoughts about “faith sabotage” – something that is done to ourselves or done by another, undermining a foundation. The role of discouragement, frustration, fear & lies in the undermining of faith. Boring church meetings, spoken in a language that makes the goings on of the day inaccessible to beginners &/or the uninitiated…


    Friday musings…

    Sitting at the completely clear & clean kitchen counter, coffee nearby, preparing for blog-age is one of my favorite things. Esp. on Fridays, which is my day of rest…. I love it. Along with brown paper bags, wrapped up with string of course…

    I’m really, really looking forward to my first Aces game – hopefully 4/18… Preliminary weather report: High of 68F, low of 40. No rain, light wind.

    So say we all!

    Life is simpler without having to put up a pretense to try to impress others. It’s at least less work. I want to “be comfortable in my own skin,”… I think that’s how Bono put it…

    As background, I occasionally have blood sugar issues – when I don’t eat often enough, or don’t get enough protein, my blood sugar plummets, as does my outlook, mood, demeanor… you get the picture.

    On that note, kids are funny. And pretty quick learners too… we were having an interchange with theWeez about a particular series of choices she made that resulted in us needing to have a “Talk.” Obviously, didn’t fully appreciate how the “Talk” was going, & further, had issues with the method of Presentation that I had chosen. But rather than take it up a notch & try to argue, bluster, or complain, she just said:

    “When was the last time you ate? You should eat something, & then we can talk…”


    Easter is this Sunday… I’m looking forward to it – the story of redemption never gets old. And I never want to just go on ‘auto-pilot’ & mail it in either, just because its Easter. May I never lose the wonder…

    NOTE: No rocks were thrown during the writing of the following paragraphs…

    Easter, along with Christmas Eve, seem to be times where churches are more prone to troll for newbies using the “Be Our Guest” scene from the Beauty & the Beast Disney film… where we put our best on, place our best foot forward, with the best music, best speech, & best egg hunt for the kiddies. All in the space of 70 minutes… & just in time for the next best service.

    It seems to be more designed for a christian culture than for one of pre-christians… to attract christians from other churches to come & see. I ponder consumer-church… Hmmm…


    I was asked out on a date, for tonight, by theBean. Don’t know where we’re going – it’s a surprise. I’m going to do my best to make myself extra pretty… :)

    standing firm…

    The last couple of weeks, I have felt physically spent – where all I want to do is sleep. So I have upped my sleep – & have even indulged in napping. Bummer part is that I’d wake up feeling as if I hadn’t slept at all. Hmm.

    My first thought is maybe it was the sickies trying to Klingon to me… don’t know that that is it.

    Second thought was to think through my schedule & see if & where I’d been overextending myself, pushing too hard, falling into old patterns… again, not sure that that is it.

    And so I ponder: what’s up? I know that these feelings are physical, mental, & definitely affecting the emotional. I like to figure things out – & so I’m praying, asking for insight, looking at me in the 3rd person…

    It came to my mind to pray for strength to stand… I know & am confident that “standing” is something that God has made me to do, for myself & for others, like Shammah did!, & He regularly reminds me of it… & the verses from Ephesians 6 came to mind…

    A final word: Be strong with the Lord’s mighty power. Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies and tricks of the Devil.

    For we are not fighting against people made of flesh and blood, but against the evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against those mighty powers of darkness who rule this world, and against wicked spirits in the heavenly realms.

    Use every piece of God’s armor to resist the enemy in the time of evil, so that after the battle you will still be standing firm. Stand your ground…

    Perhaps the accumulated relational stress, unforeseen financial tightness, physical/mental/emotional drain, etc. is actually all just a part of the latest wave that is to be resisted.

    Refocus. Realign. Repent. Rest. Reaffirm my hope in Christ. And remain standing, fully reliant on the ‘mighty power” of God to do so. Knowing that the battle will pass. The wave will move on. The heavy weariness will lift. And I want to still be on my feet.

    feeling a little bookish…

    I can feel it coming on… it usually starts with an awareness of something that I hadn’t seen before… & then I start seeing it everywhere. Awareness leads to interest, which leads to searching.. followed by discovery, immersion, & processing. This somehow, someway gets worked out in, through, & around my life. What am I talking about? I think I’d call it ‘learning.’ Something, somehow sparks an interest, a mental itch that gets scratched by the journey, the process of discovery, research, & thinking. One of the things that I’m excited about today it’s a collection of writings from the early Christian church called The Apostolic Fathers, Vol. 1. Ever since Den’s presentations on “The Historical Jesus,” I’ve been meaning to dig into the life of Polycarp – who was the disciple of John, who was the disciple of Jesus – & this book not only has the “Letter of Polycarp,” but also the account of his martyrdom at age 86.

    I don’t know where this is headed, but I think that its towards a better understanding of the early church, dealings with & responses to gnostic thought & gnosticism, & identifying, understanding, & working through a re-emergent gnosticism within the Church today…

    On that note, I would love to develop a library in my house – one with big, wide shelves that go all the way to the ceiling, made of real wood, something rich & dark, upon which I could organize my stuff… I see a comfy chair, the perfect reading lights (because of course the room is dark & cave-ish…) & a place to smoke my pipe in contemplation, ala C.S. Lewis J.R.R.R.R. Tolkien & even Sherlock Holmes… I ponder the obvious opportunity for thought that pipes give is enhanced by the beautiful smell of pipe tobacco. Not that theBean would ever let me smoke it in the house. But this is a bit of a fantasy, so in this situation, I’m not only in the house, but I’m not hiding. :)

    Books are & always have been a happy place for me – offering a refuge from the urgency of life, an opportunity for growth, new thought; for the possibility of transformation of a life outlook. Sigh.

    I’m in the market for another copy of “The Lord of The Rings” – as my last copy I left in Alex’s room in Gau Algesheim. It is a special thing to me, because it was a gift from my brother, Moe. My bags were 100% full, the book (a constant traveling companion) was well-worn, & Alex is a dear friend that I thought would appreciate that this wasn’t just me not having space & trying to pawn off things that were disposable… rather, the book itself is a symbol of love & friendship, adventure & hope, comfort in times of loneliness, a reminder of a different time. And, I know that I’ll be in Alex’s home again, wherever it will be, & I will read that copy of LOTR again. Oh yes, it shall be done.

    And now for something completely different, completely irrelevant…

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    conversations with Jerry…

    A couple times a year, I get to share a meal with Jerry, a guy that has, through no fault of his own, shaped much of my outlook on the Church, the purpose of Church, & what it means to be a Christ-follower. I say through no fault of his own, because he said that he doesn’t approach any relationship he has as “the mentor” – esp. because he is “looking to learn from” all sorts of people through friendship & interactions… but recognizes that others may see him or look to him in that role. And, he said, tongue firmly planted in cheek, if they do, that is “their problem.”

    While sitting in Claim Jumper over monstrous piles of food, Jerry brought up a topic for discussion… something that he said he & his buddy Steve have been kicking around for a while – REPENTANCE.

    Both of them have been pastoring almost as long as I’ve been alive – & both of them have noticed a few current ‘trends’ within the Church. It seems that people in Church are struggling, trying to get free from the same sin & sin patterns… clingy, life-stealing stuff. And not really having much success. At the same time, the numbers of people being baptized in the Holy Spirit seems to be shrinking as well. In their discussions, prayers, & wonderings, the same thing kept coming up. REPENTANCE… or actually, the absence of it.

    The gospel, Good News, that is being declared in & out of the Church is becoming increasingly a message of the forgiveness of sins… but is missing a (or THE) key component in the good news – repentance from sin. And instead of seeing transformed people living in freedom & vitality, the Church is filling up with ‘reformed sinners’ – people struggling with the same old, same old, basically white-knuckling their way to stopping the sinful patterns & life-traps that plagued their lives pre-Christ…

    This topic really grabbed my attention – over the last 4-6 weeks, “REPENTANCE” has been showing up all over the place in my life – kind of how I started noticing all the VW’s on the road when I got mine… I started receiving random emails with questions about it; friends relayed dreams where the main point of the dream was repentance; I’d study a section of scripture & would come across the word 10 times; I found an old teaching series called, “Fruitful Repentance,” & started listening to it, only to have another friend, unknowingly, recommend I listen to the very same series I’d just found.

    It was the reformed sinners comment that grabbed my attention – I have an idea of what he’s talking about & what he’s getting at – so I asked Jerry to give his definition of REPENTANCE – he said:

  • Repentance is acknowledging, & even owning my sin – recognizing specifically that I’m a sinner, a wrong-doer. And, on top of that, there is nothing that I can do to deal with & address my sin & sinful behaviors on my own. My own efforts at self-control, rooted though they may be in good-intentions, don’t have what it takes to overcome it.
  • Further, repentance is turning FROM this sin, & turning TO Christ is inviting Christ into my situation – to transform me by the power of the Holy Spirit. And then to show me where & how I can cooperate with the Holy Spirit’s transforming work in my life. Not to help me overcome it, but for Him to do the transformation. To do it. As a lifestyle.
  • It might just seem semantical to you, but something has clicked, (or at least has started to,) in my head & heart:

    A “reformed sinner” wants the forgiveness of sins, (which the Church is proclaiming,) & to do good, live well. And sees that there are things in how they’re living, thinking, behaving, etc that need to change… & then they set about to change it, asking for God’s help in the matter, with little to no progress, success, or lasting change. And its not because the ‘reformed sinner’ is prideful or holding out on God – they’re just doing what the Church has told them they should do… even getting water baptized, but still wondering why this just isn’t clicking for them. So they try harder.

    A transformed life is marked by steady progress turning away from the sins God has already pointed out in our lives, & an increasing awareness of additional sins He is uncovering in our minds/hearts. There is an increased “spiritual inheritance” (READ: life-giving obedience & relationship with God & others,) trust of God & His ways, (instead of my own plans,) humility, seeing myself as I am, with my God-given identity, knowing I’m not diminished by repenting, confessing sin, but rather am freed from it to live for God & for righteousness…

    The conversation over dinner got me thinking at 110 m.p.h. When I got home, I did some reading in the New Testament, & found that every time the gospel/Good News message is proclaimed, repentance is at the center of it – & that the forgiveness of sins happens as a result of the repentance. A change of heart, mind, & thought follows –> leading to a transformed life.

    Peter replied, “Each of you must turn from your sins and turn to God (REPENT), and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Acts 2:38 NLT

    …if we are living in the light of God’s presence, just as Christ is, then we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, His Son, cleanses us from every sin. If we say we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and refusing to accept the truth. But if we confess our sins to Him, He is faithful and just to forgive us and to cleanse us from every wrong. If we claim we have not sinned, we are calling God a liar and showing that His word has no place in our hearts. 1John 1:7-10 NLT

    I’m still pondering… wondering… reflecting… And I’m thankful for the conversation with Jerry.

    The confronting of fear, lies, & other Friday fun…

    The experiences & interactions of the last few days have given me cause to… pause. Reflect. Pray. In the middle of it, what keeps running through my head is this:

    Jesus traveled through all the cities & villages of that area, teaching in the synagogues & announcing the Good News about the Kingdom. And wherever He went, He healed people of every sort of disease & illness. He felt great pity for the crowds that came, because their problems were so great & they didn’t know where to go for help. They were like sheep without a shepherd. He said to his disciples, “The harvest is so great, but the workers are so few. So pray to the LORD who is in charge of the harvest; ask Him to send out more workers for His fields.” Matthew 9:35-38 NLT

    Luke 10:1,2 also relays this story – with the added context of Jesus’ sending out 72 disciples, with the instructions to be doing the same as Him… & to pray for God, the LORD of the harvest – to send more workers for His fields…

    And it resonates – not just because of the faceless masses, people I don’t know… but because of those within “my circle” – friends, & friends of friends – people needing the Good Shepherd, so many with such a wide range of needs that it almost drives me to distraction… I dig. Why?

    It bothers me so much because of my own felt inadequacy, & brokenness – & I wonder what I can do? I know Jesus Christ, & I’m following Him. I know that the Holy Spirit convicts, changes, & transforms, brings from darkness to light. And I ‘know’ my role is to be somebody that lives, that models, Christ in me, doing what He would do, being what He is in the context of my circle. And yet I’m afraid. If & when I engage with people, I’m afraid it won’t be enough. I articulate my fear: what if God doesn’t follow through?

    Now. It’s out. Brought into the light, the fear that has been twisting me, nagging in the shadows of my heart is exposed for what it is. A lie, sown in doubt, used to trip me to hopelessness. Inaction. Distraction. To focus solely on my own issues, short-comings, areas that need to be ‘put back together’… & not falling on the freedom, entering the adventure of faith, trust, & life. Knowing that I know that I know that God is able to heal. Restore. Transform. Forgive. Love. And that He has commissioned, empowered, & strengthened me to do just that. And to look for opportunities to do so.

    So instead of waiting for someone else, someone stronger, farther along, more competent, more ‘together’ to be one of the ‘workers’ in His harvest, I know that God has sent me instead. And you. And it starts with love. First me receiving it from God, then sharing what I’ve been given with others. I choose love – healthy, Godly, unconditional, love. To speak the truth in love. Invest in people, without regard for what’s in it for me? Without hope of reciprocity. And I pray along with the Apostle Paul:

    When I think of the wisdom & scope of God’s plan, I fall to my knees & pray to the Father, the Creator of everything in heaven & on earth. I pray that from His glorious, unlimited resources He will give you mighty inner strength through His Holy Spirit. And I pray that Christ will be more & more at home in your hearts as you trust in Him. May your roots go down deep into the soil of God’s marvelous love. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, & how deep His love really is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is so great you will never fully understand it. Then you will be filled with the fullness of life & power that comes from God. Now glory be to God! By His mighty power at work within us, He is able to accomplish infinitely more than we would ever dare to ask or hope. May He be given glory in the church & in Christ Jesus forever & ever through endless ages. Amen. Ephesians 3:14-21

    The development of a philosophy of missions #1, Or Becoming Missional…

    It’s a long title, I know… This post, & the next few are a part of a project I’m working on to help answer “Why are you always going to Germany?” & “How come Hillside has a ‘sister church’ in Frankfurt?” It will chronicle the thought processes behind my own development & understanding of what missions is, as well as the situations, people, & happenings that have most shaped me & my outlook on missions, & what it means to me to live out faith, missionally.

    At the end of my Jr. Year, in the summer before my Senior year, the youth group I was a part of was participating in a “mission team” to Mexico City… the city that was hosting the World Cup, a place that the whole world would be descending upon for a short time with the focus being on who had the best soccer team in the world. The purpose of the trip was to ‘evangelize/share the gospel message with the people coming to Mexico City.’ Our youth group was partnering with 2 or 3 other groups from different parts of California, most notably San Mateo, to put together ‘outreach teams’. My youth pastor asked me to consider going – I spoke broken Spanish, don’t you know? – & helped me raise the money to go. I was working a job in landscaping & through that & a couple of well-meaning donors, I was able to raise the $700 necessary for the airfare & all of our ‘in-country’ supplies.

    I’d never been on a mission trip before, & didn’t know what to expect. We met as the Reno group a couple of times in advance of our trip to talk about what we’d be doing (though I don’t remember what we talked about,) & 1x with all the other youth groups that would be going too – to familiarize ourselves with them; to work out an organizational plan so that no one would get lost in the biggest city in the whole world at a time where more people were descending on the aforementioned biggest city than could be imagined… My group (which existed for the purposes of travel) had 5 people in it, & we named the group the “Jackson 5” – (back in the day when they were Oh So Cool, & before Michael became… Michael.) The idea of a large group travelling in a bunch of smaller groups to avoid confusion in airports, subways, train stations & buses is something that I carry with me to this day…

    It seemed like such a good idea at the time. We were going to go to Mexico City, which I imagined as very impoverished & needy of the gospel of Jesus, to present the gospel through some amateur plays, songs in Spanish (that we’d just learned,) & by handing out gospel tracts in front of the main stadium where the semi-finals & finals of the Copa Mundial were to be played.

    As we arrived by plane in the city, it became very clear to me that every thought of what I had imagined would be happening on this mission trip went out the window – looking as far to the left & right that I could, seeing only the vast expanse of big city, La Ciudad, Mexico City.

    to be continued…