Sunday, February 28, 2010

Change Haiku

 Black wall rushing near.
Hair standing, ozone scented.
Baptized by cleansing rain.

We see change coming on the horizon. The blues are bluer and the black blacker in relation to each other. We dread and hunker down.

The storm demands a reaction from our bodies. Fear or awe intertwined and confused. Hormones pump and muscles tremble ready for fight or flight.

The clean smell of washed earth afterwards. The ever-surprising rainbow. The feel of newness.

We all know people who thrill at the thought of a storm. They embrace the power and majesty: the illumination by lightning flash; the soul shaking roar and ebb of thunder; the predatory banshee wind; the heart-beat of blood warm rain on a metal roof; the embrace of life wild and pure. These are the people I want leading me through change; the ones sitting on the porch energized by God at work.

"No great leader in history has fought to prevent change." John C. Maxwell 

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Creation Scripture Mash-up

 Then God said, "I've given you every sort of seed-bearing plant on Earth 
And every kind of fruit-bearing tree, given them to you for food.
To all animals and all birds, everything that moves and breathes, I give whatever grows out of the ground for food."
And there it was.
God looked over everything he had made; it was so good, so very good!
It was evening, it was morning -
Day Six.
Genesis 1:29-31
 Let all the earth tremble before him.
The world stands firm and cannot be shaken.
Let the heavens be glad, and the earth rejoice!
Tell all the nations, “The Lord reigns!”
Let the sea and everything in it shout his praise!
Let the fields and their crops burst out with joy!
Let the trees of the forest rustle with praise,
for the Lord is coming to judge the earth.
Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good!
His faithful love endures forever.
1 Chronicles 16:30-34

Christ is the visible image of the invisible God.
He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation, for through him God created everything in the heavenly realms and on earth.
He made the things we can see and the things we can’t see - such as thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities in the unseen world.
Everything was created through him and for him.
He existed before anything else, and he holds all creation together.
Christ is also the head of the church, which is his body.
He is the beginning, supreme over all who rise from the dead.
So he is first in everything.
For God in all his fullness was pleased to live in Christ, and through him God reconciled everything to himself.
He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth by means of Christ’s blood on the cross.
Colossians 1:15-20


Together, these scriptures point out some things we often ignore at our own peril:
1) We are not apart but a part of creation.
2) God loves His creation. It is good.
3) We are to rejoice in communion with all of creation.
4) We are not in charge of creation.
5) Creation was created for Him, not for us.
6) Christ is our head.
7) Christ’s death reconciled all of creation, not just humans.
8) There is to be peace with all creation.

What light does this shine on man’s “dominion over creation”?

Friday, February 26, 2010

The Human Condition

Every day at my office, there are 25 to 50 left-over forlorn pages found in the printer that no one ever claims. This is a mystery to me; maybe even tied in with the mysteries of life!

  • It was important enough to look it up and print it, but not important enough to walk “allllll the way over there” to collect it?
  • What does a “paperless” office really mean”?
  • Someone of my age was going to get it, but forgot on the way there what they were going to do?
  • Is it easier to start something than to follow through?
  • They’re too important to mess with the fuss? Someone else will eventually intuit who it belongs to and deliver it.
And while I’m at it; if I’m the last out and the first in, where’d that full pot of old cold coffee come from…

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Jesus is a Sherpa

If I climb a mountain high;
Who is altered, it or I?

Above the clouds of doubt and shame;
The heady air is cleansing thin.
Beyond the bonds of greed and fame;
Escaping from the vale of sin.

If I climb a mountain high;
Who is greater, it or I?

My goal is up, my thought below;
Lungs afire and limbs a-shaking.
Fleeing the burdens that I tow;
I spent my life in their making.

If I climb a mountain high;
Who is victor, it or I?

The Way’s too steep for one alone.
On scarred shoulders my partner bears,
The crippling weight I can’t atone.
Going on with a friend that cares.

(First published in Next-Wave Ezine Issue #96, December 2006;

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Real Prosperity Gospel

A man came from Baal Shalishah, bringing the man of God twenty loaves of barley bread baked from the first ripe grain, along with some heads of new grain. "Give it to the people to eat," Elisha said.
"How can I set this before a hundred men?" his servant asked.
But Elisha answered, "Give it to the people to eat. For this is what the Lord says: 'They will eat and have some left over.' "
Then he set it before them, and they ate and had some left over, according to the word of the Lord.
2 Kings 4:42-44

When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.
As evening approached, the disciples came to him and said, "This is a remote place, and it's already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food."
Jesus replied, "They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat."
"We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish," they answered.
"Bring them here to me," he said. And he directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over.
Matthew 14:13-20

Jesus called his disciples to him and said, "I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat. I do not want to send them away hungry, or they may collapse on the way."
His disciples answered, "Where could we get enough bread in this remote place to feed such a crowd?"
"How many loaves do you have?" Jesus asked.
"Seven," they replied, "and a few small fish."
He told the crowd to sit down on the ground. Then he took the seven loaves and the fish, and when he had given thanks, he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and they in turn to the people. They all ate and were satisfied. Afterward the disciples picked up seven basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over.
Matthew 15:32-37

1) The Elisha story was new to me! What does its similarities and differences tell us about Jesus feeding the people?
2) How important is this gospel of God’s abundance that Matthew preaches on it twice?
3) What light does this shine on today’s prosperity preachers?
4) Who are we in these messages? The hungry? The man from Baal Shalishah and the disciples? Jesus? All?

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

What Was Your Greatest Compliment?

When our son was starting to become more independent, he made an appointment with the doctor and visited on his own for the first time. Later that afternoon, we got a call from the doctor. As a father, my first question was not “What’s wrong medically that a real live doctor would call us?” No, my gut reaction was “Oh no. What did he do wrong?” (Hey, fatherhood is challenging!) He had been our son’s doctor for years and had seen him grow and mature; he had called to say that we had a wonderful kid, and that we had done a good job raising him. Totally blindsided us!

When was the last time I praised someone through complimenting their parent? Does the way I live my life earn compliments for my God?

Monday, February 22, 2010

Saturday, February 20, 2010

In the Footprints of Livingstone

We had a wonderful afternoon visit with an amazing young friend of ours. Laura Staszewski is with Overland Missions serving in Zambia.  She was telling us about her ministry there to church leaders. They're already plenty of churches there; instead of planting new churches she and others are tending the fruit of existing pastors. Some were chosen as pastors by the congregation because they were the only one in the community that could read! Some can read, but do not have the knowledge to interpret what the Bible says. Others can not answer the question, "what is a Christian"? Her group goes out into the bush, to find and serve villages that have not been visited by a missionary or trained pastor since David Livingstone passed through!

It amazes me how easy it is for me to take things for granted. I live in a country where everyone reads, where everyone who wants to own a Bible has one (or many), and where some denominations have too many trained and skilled pastors to find permanent positions for them all! Please follow her blog, pray for her to be able to get sufficient funding to go bak in March, pray for all the pastors that desperately need the support Overland provides, and if you are so called give a contribution, a sponsorship or join her in Africa. 

It takes so little to make a big difference. By transforming the lives of our brothers and sisters, we transform our own lives even more. Please share this blog and spread the word.

Haiku of Moving Snow

Water fluff weaving.
A waltz at the winter ball.


Friday, February 19, 2010

Hero School

My son developed a class that he is  teaching at local park districts called Hero School. He teaches kids not only the motor control skills of Spiderman, Superman, Ninjas and Jedi knights, but also life skills like 911, Stranger-Danger and First Aide. Why don’t our churches have Hero School?

Spiderman’s Agility: Teach me to be able to sense trouble coming, and to be able to change and adapt instead of panic and over-react..

Strength and Speed of Superman: Show me how to react to injustice instantly with confidence and faith. (X-ray vision discernment wouldn’t be bad either!)

Stealth of the Ninja: You have to sneak up on someone to “thump them” with the Bible; if you stand on the corner and scream at them they’re not likely to listen openly. Teach me the soft evangelism of love.

Jedi Wisdom: Teach me proverbs for today. “We are one with the Spirit.” “Let the Spirit be with you.” “The Spirit is strong in this one.”

911: Prayer is not a collect-call that we should worry won’t be accepted.  I need to learn that it’s really just as easy as 9-1-1.

Stranger-Danger: The pleasures of the world are very attractive and tempting. I don’t have a clue about how to live a sustainably spiritual life awash in a fleshy sea. Give me some real life skills instead of platitudes and back-handed judgments.

First Aide: The hurt and wounded come to our churches seeking a hospital for the soul, and find white-washed tombs. Teach our pastors, our lay leaders and our members how to deal with conflict, how to comfort, how to be there for others.

Heroes sacrifice themselves for others. Heroes have a passionate purpose in life. Heroes’ sagas are about the facing of poor odds and insurmountable hurdles. The Church needs to birth Heroes. We need Heroes to emulate. We need to be Heroes.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Open Doors?

This time of year, why would anyone want to stay in North Dakota?

Florida family gives up on small-town North Dakota

This story provides lessons for churches "recruiting" new members instead of serving non-members:

1) Before we invite people, determine if we're truly welcoming.

Seekers have bat-like sensitive hypocrisy radar, and can tell when we’re just paying lip-service. Do we invite the unwashed masses and the huddled poor, but secretly hope for those just like us? Being hospitable is being sacrificial; are we open to changing ourselves for the benefit of God, or do we want really want the "new people" to change to fit in? If it's the latter, we're not welcoming. And why are we inviting people? Is it to expose people to God or to “succeed” by worldly measures? Are they loved and needed for themselves as creations in God’s image, or for what they bring to the table? Put ourselves in their place, if given the chance would we like to be treated as numbers, as monetary amounts, or as family members?

2) Do we REALLY want to grow, or do we think it is what we're supposed to do?

If we fear change and do not want to risk the chemistry of our existing fellowship dynamics we will subconsciously not strive to succeed or even sabotage our own efforts. If we see it as someone else’s goal for us, we will not internalize it, own it or champion it. If being open and welcoming is so contrary to our nature, the stress of pretending to be something we aren’t will fragment us, create resentful passive-aggressiveness, and make our invitations only skin deep and lukewarm. Are we willing to sail against the current of our baser selves long enough for openness to become our new ingrained nature?

3) Have an implementation plan in place before implementing our outreach. Getting people in the door is easy; keeping them is hard and constant work.

The first Alberta Clipper would have been the end for me in North Dakota! How do we help people adjust to the culture shock of a new church or the even bigger shock of a first church? What intentional acts are planned to change “them” into “us”? What nurture and support systems do we have in place before they come?

Do an inventory. What are the hidden signs that your church is not as welcoming as it thinks? Examples: Do you promote your church to new home-owners and ignore renters? Do you charge community groups to use our church, while waiving the fee for members?

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Storm-wing Haiku

Skeigh of raw tempest.
Blizzard stooping from the clouds.
Hawk-wings mantling.


Monday, February 15, 2010

Undercover Boss

We watched a show last night where the CEO of Hooters went undercover at various franchises in the chain. His first boss used demeaning ridicule in a training boot-camp to break his spirit. Then he went out on the streets with "the girls" who complained that they had to wear such tight clothes. People came up to them and told them that they should be ashamed for demeaning women. His second boss wouldn't let "the girls" go home during the dead time to go to school or take care of their families unless they performed demeaning "reindeer" games for his pleasure. The final boss was a woman who had worked her way up from the bottom and treated everyone with dignity and respect.

The highlight of the show is when he goes back to his office and calls them in to reveal his true identity and  pronounce judgement. We wanted some Old Testament justice; like Israel calling for vengeance on their abusers in Psalms. We were anticipating with glee a royal smiting!

The drill-sergeant was told that he was just what the "Hooter Nation" needed. 

The harasser was told that he was not treating "the brand" with sufficient respect, and allowed to repent.

Instead of recognizing the cause of the negative public image, he put two of the waitresses on a committee to work on a PR campaign to enhance the image of the costume.

The model manager and role model was given an overdue vacation... and when she returned she took a less stressful job with the company.

We were left completely unsatisfied! Why wasn't the mean manager demoted back into the ranks? Why didn't the manager who kept his "prima-donnas" humble by making them shove their own faces in beans not get arrested, sued, least fired? Why didn't he let the waitresses have a greater say in their wardrobe? Why didn't he use his one good role model and develop a training program around her to raise up more of the waitresses into management? 

Justice does not always meet our expectations. 

Judgement is not ours.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Cherry Blossom Time

We have all been the victim, witness or perpetrator of scriptural cherry-picking. My wife tells me that in the grocery bizz, cherry-picking is walking past all the regularly priced stuff to hunt out just the loss-leader sale items. These are the items marketed to get people in the store (99 cent milk coupon) where they are supposed to also buy other things; the store takes a loss on these items and needs the other sales to make a profit. When people go store to store only buying the mega-sale items, each store loses. We do this same thing when we read and quote the Bible; there-by reducing its value and status.

In many languages like English, much of a word’s meaning is derived from its context in the sentence, paragraph or story. “Scat, cat”, “Cat scat”, and “The cool cat scatted” have way different meanings. If you saw just the word scat, you would have to conjecture which meaning is applicable; and boy you could have an interesting faux pas! Bible verses are the same. They are four dimensional, needing to be evaluated in an all dimensional context to be interpreted.

0D – The null dimension is a singularity, a point in space of infinite smallness. It is a mental construct, a dot, a cherry. I know what the concept of a cherry is, it has its own identity, it is whole unto itself. A verse has a meaning taken alone. Do I view an individual verse as a unique sacred thing in and of itself, or as part of a greater whole?

1D – The first dimension is a line. It goes from here to there without height, width or solidity; (ka-ching) a line of cherries on a slot machine. When I connect the cherry-dots to make a story line, do I pick enough cherries to draw the intended line? Two lines do not a line make I heard in school. Do I manipulate the line by selecting some cherries over others?

2D – The second dimension is a plane; cartoon world. It is a flat picture representing a cherry tree. It has horizontal measure: what is the verse’s context in its own day and age? Who was its audience at the time? What is its context with other verses in the chapter and book?

3D – The third dimension is volume, solidity. The cherry has depth, it has a pit and a pit represents one thing, it has a bright red skin and the skin represents another thing. The cherry is located in space upon the tree, not just horizontally but also vertically. This is what I heard but looking at God’s character what was he really saying to them then and there?

4D – The fourth dimension is time, from a place in space to a place in time; change, chaos, movement. The cherry started as a blossom, and the cherry shaped by sun, rain, soil and bees. If planted, its pit will grow into a new tree that will bear its own fruit. How does a verse’s meaning change through time; what is God saying to me today? How does it fit in context to what was written before and after?

In many ways, a verse out of context is not just a fish out of water; it is speaking in tongues without an interpreter of tongues. It has a meaning between me and God alone. Tongues do not edify others, as Paul said. For the building up of the church the more important gift is the interpretation, not the speaking (1 Corinthians 14:1-25).

Friday, February 12, 2010

A Poem About Hoop Snakes - and Other Things

Angel Wings

For me prose is too
     Earthbound for praising.
Plodding dot-to-dot
     In search of an ending.
Arrowing straightly
    Still missing the mark.
Hoop-snake round
    Going nowhere new.

For me poetry is just
     Liquid enough for praying.
Fledgling, newly a-flight
     Weightlessly ascending.
Speaking full of tongues
     The language of the heart.
Sonorous soul-speaking
     Going somewhere new.


Tuesday, February 9, 2010

It’s All Downhill from Here

Have you been to the mountaintop
With Brothers Moses and Martin
To see the Promised Land?

Do you climb every mountain
To find the quiet lonely space
Listening for the whispered call?

Do you go tell it on the mountain
With shofar, bell and yodel
To share the ever-new story?

Do you live a mountain life
Upstream from all your siblings
Everyone being your neighbor?


Sunday, February 7, 2010

Going Deep

In the workplace we are told
To pick the low-hanging fruit;
Vision lost to economic efficiency.

In government we are told -
Only act if there is broad appeal;
Vision lost to political reality.

In church we’re often told
To grow our membership wide;
Vision lost amidst our measure.

But in scripture we are bold
And cast our nets into the deep;
Vision found our true treasure.


Saturday, February 6, 2010

Isaiah and the Oak Savanna

Hi; I’m Isaiah ben Amoz and it’s nice to meet you. Most people don’t want to listen to me, so I’m glad you asked to hear my story. 

In the same year that King Uzziah was born, I had the mother of all visions; and let me tell you, I would know! So, I see the Lord Himself sitting on His throne in the Temple. Now it wasn’t your Indy’s Temple of Doom or Lost’s Temple in the Jungle (come on, you mean to tell me they didn’t know it was there all that time on the island snooping around?). It wasn’t even The Temple in Jerusalem. This was THE TEMPLE; heaven, kingdom, Zion, whatever. 

There’s this mighty host of funky angels, each with six wings (overkill if you ask me). Only one pair was used for the obvious purpose of flying. Another pair was used to cover their faces; hiding from God or from me I don’t have a clue. Stranger yet, the final pair were used to cover their feet! Don’t know what they were hiding there – I mean, if you fly everywhere your feet wouldn’t be all that dirty would they? Well I’m here to tell you that the very doors of the Temple throbbed as they called back and forth among the ranks: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory.” 

Now I’m thinking to myself “Izzy, you’re in deep doo-doo here!” Dad would always say “And you kiss your mother with that mouth?” after the camel bit me or the donkey got contrary. And here I am in front of the Big Guy and I can’t kiss the hem of His Temple-filling robe, or even say howdy because of my potty-mouth! But then, an understanding angel comes up to me and holds up a burning ember to my lips. At first I’m all “Excuuuzze meee! You want me to do what? That thing is HOT!” Then I thought, this must be a crazy dream from old dates; fire is used to purify: sterilize surgical instruments; distill wine; refine precious metals; and cauterize wounds. Must be a symbolic ritual act, like when dad washed my mouth out with soap. I’m thinking though that this will leave more of a mark to remember it by than some stray lingering bubbles. Afterwards, the angel said “OK. Your guilt is gone now.” Must be some link between sin and talking, but who can think after kissing lava? 

After the thunder of angelic voices, the Lord’s voice was all the more powerful for its stillness, and I leaned forward to catch every word. “I’ve a big job that needs to be done yesterday. Who am I going to send?” 

The army of angels was still pretending they’re not there - hiding behind their wings and singing “la-la-la-la-la” at the top of their lungs. My lips must not be too singed because I blurted out “ME, ME, ME! I’ll do it!” Say what? 

He: “Go tell My people to keep listening, but to not understand. Keep looking, but don’t see. That way, they won’t repent and get healed.” 

This seems to me the opposite of what I should be saying, but maybe it’s some rhetorical devise? This is going to be some hard message for the poor sap that has to preach it - oh, fudge… So I equivocate and ask “How long do I keep them in the dark?” 

He: “Until their land is a vast emptiness.” 

That’s ominous! How am I going to sell that? “Uh, Sir? Where’s the carrot with that really big stick?” 
He: “Even if there is only a remainder of a tithe’s worth of the people, they’ll be burned up in the coming fire.” (O boy!) “What’s left will stand out like a burnt oak tree stump out on the savanna – My holy seed.” 

Well I’ve seen many an oak stump re-sprout and grow with greater vigor once all the dead-wood and competition had been burned away, but try telling that to the big old oak! I can see how this could be seen as a message of hope in the end, but the light of hope is brightest in a dark tunnel. Why do I have to preach it now in the sunshine of our prosperity? Why preach an anti-prosperity gospel to the prosperous? It would be a lot easier if I waited until it all goes down the drain! I don’t think He thought this through… 

Excuse me, I see a crowd over there.  

“Hey folks, listen up!” 

(Isaiah 6)

Friday, February 5, 2010

The Politics of Playing it Safe

“Whoever wishes to be first among you must be your servant, and whoever is to be first among you must be a slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” Mark 10:44-45

“Too many who presume to lead do not see more clearly and, in defense of their inadequacy, they all the more strongly argue that the ‘system’ must be preserved.” Robert K. Greenleaf 

The recent primaries here in Illinois and the schoolyard brawl in Washington led me to reflect again on leadership, so I pulled out my dog-eared copy of Greenleaf’s 1977 book Servant Leadership. He defined a servant leader as one who first serves, and then leads as an extension to that service. Here is his test to evaluate such a leader:
  • “Do those served grow as persons?”
  • “Do they, while being served, become healthier. Wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to be servants?”
  • “And, what is the effect on the least privileged in society; will they benefit, or at least, not be further deprived?”
Leaders are evaluated by their followers. How do ours stack up? 

The temptation of public life is to play it safe enough to get re-elected or re-appointed. Jacob Burckhardt warned us that “Mediocrity is the truly diabolical force in the world.” Rufus M. Jones saw such times as cross-roads of decision: “We stand in a crisis and we can be bearers of the torch or we can carefully husband a little flame and keep it from going out a little bit longer.” Are we torch-bearers or ember-keepers? As a Planner, I frequently hear “Make no little plans, they have no magic to stir men’s blood.” Daniel Burnham 

There are various quotes throughout the book that help us identify the traits of a good leader:
  • “The servant as leader always empathizes, always accepts the person but sometimes refuses to accept some of the person’s effort or performance as good enough.”
  • “On an important decision one rarely has one hundred percent of the information needed for a good decision no matter how much one spends or how long one waits. And if one waits too long, one has a different problem and has to start all over.”
  • ‘The failure (or refusal) of a leader to foresee may be viewed as an ethical failure.”
  • “Awareness is not a giver of solace – it is just the opposite. It is a disturber and an awakener. Able leaders are usually sharply awake and reasonably disturbed. They are not seekers after solace.”
  • “If one really believes that the ‘word’ has been given for all time, how can one be a seeker? How can one hear the contemporary voice when one has decided not to live in the present and has turned that voice off?”
  • “Servant-leaders are healers in the sense of making whole by helping others to a larger and nobler vision and purpose than they would be likely to attain for themselves.”
  • “I have watched closely many able leaders in all sorts of institutions. The best of them feel that a prolonged period of calm stability is a greater threat to viability than an occasional state of confusion.”
  • “One must oppose those things that one believes to be wrong, but one cannot lead from a predominantly negative posture.”
How would the world be different if we were led by servants? How would our churches change if they dropped worldly leadership models? How can we get our leaders to cowboy up, and become servants? What is keeping me from being a leader?

“The real enemy is fuzzy thinking on the part of good intelligent, vital people, and their failure to lead, and to follow servants as leaders. Too many settle for being critics and experts.” 

“In short, the enemy is strong natural servants who have the potential to lead but do not lead, or who choose to follow a non-servant.” 

For more information on Greenleaf, go to: