Monday, December 20, 2010

A Very Common Christmas

There we were, about 40 of us caroling in the neighborhoods around THCC.  It was cold but not miserable, we were crowded on the back of two trailers, but not unhappy.  In fact, it was one of the most enjoyable nights hanging out with friends I have enjoyed in many a night!

Just a bunch of people who less than a year ago didn't know each other, who didn't know what being a family in Christ meant, and who probably never ventured into each others circles.  Some of these folks are people of means, others are not.  Some have had success in life, others feel like LIFE has been a two ton dump truck that has unloaded on them. Yet, here we were together, truly fellowshiping with each other, having a blast singing carols in front of strangers homes, and spending time in a few of our friends houses who let us traipse in to warm up and drink something warm and enjoy their hospitality.

I have been together at times and in other settings with folks and have not experienced such fellowship.  In fact, I have been among much more powerful people in my day and felt completely left out.  This was not a group of 40 people broken down into 5 -6 cliques of separate people who were occupying the same space.  We were all together enjoying each other, enjoying singing familiar songs which proclaim great Truth, invading each others homes, and doing something as simply as wishing our neighbors a Merry Christmas.  And yet, it was a profound experience as successful business men fellowshiped with common laborers, as people who've been on the inside of church welcomed those who've looked in to church from a distance most of their lives.

Our plans weren't earth shatteringly innovative, we weren't a part of something elaborate and noteworthy, we were just walking the streets of our neighborhoods singing and being a family.  It was a very common thing to do. It was done in a very common way.  Yet the impact was holy.  Yeah, I said it holy!

It's been a long time since I've since true friendship, real companionship, genuine love expressed together. It seemed to be the outgrowth of a fellowship that is color blind, socially amnesic, and blessed.

To you the family of The Harbor I want to say I love you from the depths of my soul and I wish you are a very Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Friends, no not the show, well sort of, maybe?

Many of us wasted many moments of our lives watching the TV show Friends.  The premise of the show was the day to day lives of a group of friends.  There wasn't much plot other than that it seemed.  Somehow, this became compelling TV for many years.

What was so compelling about this show? Superb acting? Really! Great plot lines?  They really were quite predictable were they not? The sexual tension between the friends acted out in a confusing circular process? Somebody among the writing crew was committed to pushing some perceived social envelope if you ask me.

I think the ingredient that kept us all tuning in each week was the dynamic of friendship.  Friendship is often a missing ingredient in our lives. Some of us have had just enough friendship to make is yearn for more.  Others, feel like they've been on the outside of the friendship store looking in their whole lives. If you've been blessed with real friendships no one has to tell you how blessed you genuinely are.

Last week during a trip to OK to visit family, Pam and I had the opportunity to reconnect with some of the friends of my youth.  I had not seen some of these friends since our wedding in 1982.  One of these friends played host to the gathering. The one thing I noticed when we arrived was that everyone had gotten old!  How did that happen?  Of course there was that one friend who still had all of his hair and it was still the color it was in High School and he still wreaked of Polo Cologne.

We shared a meal, talked laughed, cried a little, played amateur philosopher, but mostly we just soaked up each others presence.  These were the friends of my youth - the people who were there to watch all the awkward junk as one goes through puberty, that first girlfriend, the first really stupid choice in a line of not so bright choices. Through it all they were and are friends, while they may have brought a word of correction punctuated with the occasional, "Ronnie, what have you done now!", they were never judgmental and often risked their own reputations and security to be there for me.

 I am blessed and thankful for the friends of my youth for they taught me the value of friendship, how to be a friend and the importance of developing friends throughout my life.  Jonathon said of David, "There is a friendship that is closer than a brother."  To that I can only say, Ditto!

Friday, November 5, 2010

No Bridge Ahead?!

Many years ago I was in Salt Lake City, UT for a Southern Baptist Convention meeting which happened to occur just prior to the Winter Olympics later that year.  Obviously, everything was under construction, especially the highway systems.

I have learned something about people who live in a particular area, they are so used to the chaos around them they don't even think about telling someone from the outside how to navigate around the commonplace chaos.  So, when we rented a car at the airport no one bothered to tell us or the other 12,000 tourists for that week that the major Interstate through Salt Lake City was under major construction.  Now when I say major I don't mean some sissy re-stripping project.  I'm talking about a 10 lane (5 each way) super highway capable of Autobahn speeds that appeared to be ready to carry us straight to our hotel and convention center.

There was one major problem.  And, when I say problem I don't mean some girly problem, I'm talking full blown, grown man kind of trouble.  The problem - THERE WAS NO STINKING BRIDGE TO GET TO THE OTHER SIDE!

They had spent millions building a super highway that literally stopped at a creek.  Compared to the new Interstate system this creek was minuscule.  But because they had not built the bridge, we were stuck on the wrong side.  Imagine, several thousand Baptist preachers all stopped at the end of the road trying to figure out what to do now - the irony was palpable!  There were no signs warning that the road ended and no directions about how to get to the other side from where we were.  We were left to our own ingenuity and devices to find our way across.

That moment of utter futility has served as a metaphor for my life and ministry ever since. For the majority of my public ministry which spanned the last twenty years of the 20th Century and now the first decade of the 21st Century, "Church Inc." has been busy building super highways.  We've called them by various names:  Inerrancy, Defense of Marriage, Anti - Homosexuality, and more recently a resurrection of arguments over the nature of Election when it comes to salvation.

We have cussed and fussed our way down super highways where we have spent millions of dollars and countless hours of energy making sure we can move through these complicated issues with speed and great influence.  Our leaders have been nearly monthly commentators on news opinion programs as we've been successful in holding at bay many perceived social and moral threats.  Don't get me wrong, I am not in favor of a neutered sacred text, and I think marriage is between a man and a woman, and yes, I believe God is in charge of salvation, I am humble enough to admit I'm not sure how he calls an elect from among all of us. 


We now stand at a precipice with the next generation starring at us from the other side.  No matter how loud we yell, they don't hear us, nor understand us (that is for another dose of randomness). Perhaps in all of our huffing, puffing and the expenditure of way too much money and effort we should have designated some resources on ensuring that we could bridge the gap to the next generation. They do not understand our holy wars, and speak a very different emotional language than us and look at us like one would an exhibit in a museum.

I can't help but hear Jesus say things like, "lay down your life", "the first shall be last", "go the extra mile".  Somehow, it seems we heard him say, "win elections", "dictate to the culture to came to us first". For those of you who know me well, I understand that it is often my nature to stand and scream at the problem.  I am done with that!  I think, it is time to climb down from the superhighway and try building a footbridge to the other side.  After all the way to peace and grace is narrow and difficult!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

What a Difference a Month Makes

Today I am flying home from Fayetteville having just delivered Leah and the boys and a dog named Nova.  This was the second leg of a round trip odyssey between Fayetteville and St. Louis interrupted by a month's long visit by Leah to family while Jon was away in Louisiana on a training mission.  The first leg of the trip was incredibly eventful, as David, who is two struggled at times with the requirements of sitting strapped in a car seat for 8 hours two days in a row.

This trip was much calmer.  In the span of one month David has learned how to entertain himself with various toys and talking in 'Davidese' to Leah and I.  I really should improve my linguistics!  Erik has awakened to the world around him and plays with the toys dangling above him from his car seat.  When awake he coos and loves to giggle at his mom.

AND, Leah and I talked the whole trip.  TALKED, really talked.  She had a very difficult situation occur while she as home and it became an avenue for us to connect in ways we had not at this point.  In fact, while she was home she opened up to Pam and I and Pam's sister and brother-in-law who came for a visit.

The growth of two little boys and a daughter-in-law with her father-in-law's relationship are a reminder that change happens.  In fact, everything changes.  The only things that do not change are dead. For you perfectionists I know that dead things decay - not the kind of change I want to be a part of!

Faith changes.  It grows in understanding, dedication, risk, angst - you name it Faith is meant to change.  If you grew up in the religious traditions that I grew up with, the focus was almost exclusively upon the initial aspect of faith.  The problem with that is, yes, every journey begins with the first step, but no journey of any value has only one step.

In recent months my faith has been stretched, pushed, pummeled, blessed and changed.  I'm am not sure what is around the next bend but the twists and turns over the years cause me to have a deep trust that the rest of this journey is in the hands of someone else, someone who cares in ways I cannot begin to fathom.


Friday, October 15, 2010

Poets and Theologians Society

We are beginning an informal group for guys to eat some good food and chat about life, God, family, God, work, God, getting old, and God.  A friend came up with the tongue in cheek name, Poets and Theologians Society.  I lobbied for adding Dead Heads in the title so that I would feel more at home, but so far the name has not gained any support.

Our focus will be learning from each other and perhaps from some really wise believers who've gone before us and a few who are still on this side of the dirt.

When the idea was presented one fellow pilgrim mentioned that he wanted to be a part of the group because, "I have some serious questions bout this whole faith thing."  He went on to add, "Sometimes I really struggle with doubts and feelings of inadequacy."

As I said to him, so I say to you, 'Following Christ is not about having all the answers, in fact, it may be about having a whole new set of questions.  For those of us who have longed to have honest dialogue about stuff bigger than ourselves, I am looking forward to this opportunity to break bread together and open our hearts to one another.  Somehow I think this is what Jesus wanted for his disciples.

We are meeting on Friday evening, October 22nd, 6 PM at Casa De Vino which is in the same building complex as our offices.  They have a moderately priced appetizer oriented menu and specialize in pizzas.
We will be meeting outside in there garden area (there will be heaters) that way some of you who have talked about your burnt offerings can do so without choking the rest of us!

Come join us for an informal, relaxing opportunity to get to know one another and learn what God may have in store as well.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Road Trip and a Reminder of Dependence

I just returned from a whirlwind trip to NC to bring our daughter-in-law and two grandsons home to St. Louis for the month while our son is in LA for training.  I flew out late Monday night and Leah, the boys, a Pomeranian named Nova  and I drove back over the past two days.

Pam and I are blessed with a great daughter-in-law and two really cool grandsons.  The youngest, Erik, sat quietly in his car seat, slept, ate, pooped and repeated the process over the two day trip with little complaint over the 900 plus miles.

Our two year old grandson David was a different story.  When he was asleep he was a perfect angel.  When he was awake, well at the very least he was energetic.  Imagine being strapped in a chair for two straight days in a car when the world is happening all around you. Maybe you can understand him a bit better when you see things from his perspective.

The thing I learned from David was how frustrating it must be to almost able to communicate your thoughts but yet don't know what to call all the stuff you want to see, touch, taste, and know about.  He is very communicative but is still learning what things are and how to form the words correctly.  Thus, he goes through this kind of process:  he calls his mom, points at something shaking his head full of blond hair wildly and then looks at Leah like she is the most uniformed person he has ever known when she doesn't understand his request.

How frustrating it must be to know what you want and not be able to get the 'big' people around you to get it!  Ever feel like that?  Ever feel like that in relationship to God.  Ever been in a situation so overwhelming that even prayer became paralyzing?  Your heart knows what you need and longs to ask it, share it experience it, but your mind simply doesn't know how to communicate in words what is in your heart.

It is in those moments that God has enables to communicate with him through the 'indwelling' nature of the Holy Spirit.  Since the Holy Spirit lives in us as God's presence in our lives while we are here on earth, the Holy Spirit communicates to God those things we can't find words to describe.  So, in those moments when you feel like stomping your foot, pointing wildly and screaming like a, well a two year old, just stop a moment and reflect on the fact that the Holy Spirit knows what you're trying to say and he is communicating on your behalf.
Ahh, how deep the Father's love for us!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Uggghhhh, snort, sniff, cough, gag, and other things best kept secret

I hate being sick! There I said it.  Those of you who know me well are not surprised by the comment.  For my wife, she can attest that I hate being sick so much that I even neglect taking care of myself and am constantly asking her what do I need to take to fix this!  She smiles hands me some Tylenol, pets me on the head and probably mutters something about me being a child under her breath, but I can't hear her becuase my ears are stopped up!
The common cold - nose running like the Mississippi River, head clogged like it is filled with Missouri clay, coughing like an old tractor engine not quite in time with itself.  You leave a trail of kleenex and pill wrappers behind you.  And you are about as pleasant as a rhinoceros.  Well, at least that's how I feel.
The worst part for me is feeling like I'm stuck in a room where the atmosphere is too thick to breath the air or move around freely.  I feel like everyone is mubbling while they whisper in my direction.  And, I just want this to end.
I wonder if you can catch a spiritual cold?  You know, just that malaise that comes over you every once in a while.  Where you feel thick and spiritually dull?  You don't have anything terminal - you're not caught up in some horrible sin.  In fact, you probably have been growing quiety, steadily and then you wake up with that itchy feeling and you know it is here.
Why do we get stuck spiritually sometimes?  Why do we get to that place where we just feel like we're trying to grab a nickel at the bottom of a swimming pool - you can almost grab it but run out of air and have to resurface empty handed.
My religious background screams that it is my fault!  That I did or failed to do something and thus God has inflicted my with the spiritual snots to get my attention.  Most of the time my religious background, though confident in its assertions, is wrong.
Maybe, I just needed to slow down.  Maybe I just needed to grow deaf to the noise around me for awhile.  Maybe, my spiritual cold, is a reminder that just as my salvation was the complete work of God.  My maturity is His process as well.
I love the lyrics of Keith Green, "My son, my son, why are you striving? You can't add one thing to what's been done for you.  I did it all while I was dying.  Rest in my grace, my peace will come to you." 
Ahh, common cold, my nemesis, my friend.  You will pass as quickly as you came, probably without any help from all the medicenes that make me feel like I'm encased in bubble wrap.  Spiritual cold?  Slow me down a bit, remind of the big hand of God's grace and turn the lights back on when I'm ready.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Let's talk Small Groups

Beginning the week of September 12th The Harbor Community Church will begin a new chapter in our life together.  We are beginning our version of small groups called "Harbor Groups".  Let me tell you what Harbor Groups are not and then let's talk about what I hope they will become for us.

For those of you with a church background you may think you know all about small groups, after all you've been in church and you've done this already - right?  Well maybe. 
Harbor Groups are more than Sunday School
Sunday School was an invention of the American culture from the late 18th and early 19th century. Sunday School started as an innovation in the way churches educated their members; particularly children.  Sunday School was developed to teach children who were basically homeless and orphaned in early American life.  Over the years, the idea grew to include training for all ages and churches begin to build facilities to house these education opportunities.
Now some 200 years later Sunday School happens in virtually every traditional church setting.  The focus is primarily, if not exclusively, to train participants in the doctrinal teachings of the Bible and the particular traditions of that chruch. 
Today, we believe people need more than just information taught in a classical teacher - student relationship.

Harbor Groups are more than Learning stuff
While, we hope you'll learn from your experience in your Harbor Group, we hope you'll learn in a different way.  For most of my life I have been learning almost exclusively with my mind.  I know how to think Biblically and can communicate verbally the great truths of the Bible.  And yet, I have learned that something is missing.  I have not learned with my heart.  My prayer for our Harbor Groups is that they will be a safe place where we can learn with our hearts as well as our minds.  After all, Jesus said, "Love God with all your heart, soul, and your mind."  In each of those Gospel passages loving God with your heart is mentioned first.  Learning with the heart is extremely valuable.

Harbor Groups are more than just another obligation
More obligations - who needs them!  Another night out of my week and two more hours to give up - who really wants to do that!  Our dream for the Harbor Groups is that they will become life giving opportunities that we need to be a part of.  I pray that we will need to learn about God in close fellowship with others. If that occurs, Harbor Groups will not be a burdensome obligation but a life giving value to everyone involved.

Harbor Groups are about learning life together.  Jesus called a few disciples away from the rat race of life to learn from him what life was meant to be.  In the process, they grew and their lives were transformed.

Harbor Groups are about becoming what I am yet to be.  In Romans 12 Paul talks about being transformed through the renewing of our minds.  Harbor Groups are not about information; they are about transformation. They are about growing to the place where Christ is formed within us.

I hope you will take some time to really pray about being apart of our Harbor Groups.  You can find all the pertinent information on our website.  So, please accept this invitation to come as you are for the opportunity to become the person God has in mind for you to be and your heart as always dreamt of being.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

A Scary Place Indeed

When I was in college there was this old cemetery in a neighboring community which was legendary as one of the scariest places to visit in all of that part of Oklahoma. So being as I am, I ventured forth one evening with some friends to check out this place.  I was convinced that a cemetery really could not be that scary.  My personal history, theology, everything told me there was nothing to fear in a cemetery. By the end of the night I was proven very wrong.

You see what was so unique and frightening about this place were all the religious images throughout the location.  In fact, there was an old gothic church which stood guard at the entrance of the place.  The cemetery itself had many old broken down buildings, one of which was an old crematorium.  I have to tell you there is something really unnerving about a building where bodies were burned to ash, particularly after dark!

My resolve and rational mind were overwhelmed that night.  It seemed at every turn there was something else that was terrifying, largely because I didn't understand why such icons and statuary could provide comfort and peace in such a place - I was certainly not at peace in the presence of a life size crucifix holding sway at the entrance of the infant plot in the cemetery.

For the last several years I have been trying to get in touch with the huge cultural shift taking place all around me.  In some ways I feel like I went to sleep in one world - a world familiar and known, only to awake to a foreign world.  A  world where not only did I not understand the language I didn't understand anything about what I was seeing.  And I am supposed to  lead fellow believers to engage, speak to and win this culture - a culture to which I was and still am blind.

I had a conversation with a friend who was encouraging me about our work at The Harbor Community Church.  He told me it was great to see a particular individual worshipping with us.  My response was more telling than I realized at the time.  I said, "I thought I understand why some people didn't like CHURCH, but now I am learning that it is not dislike as much as it is fear."

FEAR of church?  Yes!  Not just fear of the unknown traditions and habits: when to stand, sit, sing 400 year old songs with rhythmns that are completely unfamiliar, give money, etc., etc.  A deeper fear, a nightmarish fear.  The fear of rejection. 
  • Rejection from 'good people'.  To those of us on the inside of CHURCH we are ignorant of how intimidating we are.  We look good, we act good, we dress good, we seem to have everything together. To those on the outside looking in we are intimidating, foreign, and unapproachable.
  • Rejection from a 'holy God'.   The darkest fear however is of God himself.  You see we are all created in his image.  There is something within all of us that tells us he is real and sometimes our brokenness creates the nightmare that he is to be avoided at all costs. 
Do people fear CHURCH? Absolutely!  Lately, God has put me in the midst of a growing group of people who fear everything about CHURCH and GOD.  Some of those people grew up in church and have been active in church all their lives, but they realize now that much of their religious expression has been driven by fear - fear of other believers and, yes, a fear of God.

As a spiritual leader and fellow pilgrim it is time that I find a way to communicate, serve, and love to alleviate peoples fears.  Thus, we need to step outside of our traditions, ego, architecture and return to our neighborhoods, our schools, places of business and learn how to proclaim the Gospel in this foreign land - the land in which we live!

It won't be easy, but assuming they must learn our ways, our customs, our secret handshakes is the epitome of spiritual pride and arrogance.  Jesus has called us to be servants to the least of these not religious gatekeepers who dole out acceptance by the dropper full.

Maybe if we learned to relate and care - to invest and immerse ourselves in their world, maybe the world of Jesus will not be as scary as the world of CHURCH has become!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Freedom, Really!?

While I am a bit young to actually be considered a Hippie, (no,really it's true) I grew up with 3 older sibilings who were deeply rooted in the philosophy, culture, and shall we say habits of Hippie-dom (I just made that word up). I remember the ongoing discussions around our dinner table between my siblings and my parents. The theme always centered around the desire for, the perceived right to, and virtually anything else related to the concept of freedom - especially personal freedoms. I often wonder if any of us realize how freeing it actually was to have parents who let us discuss and debate freedom? (Hey Jean, Jo and Keith, we all had it pretty good didn't we!?)

FREEDOM- the Founding Father's fought with pen and sword for it, classroom professors have championed it, a generation dreamed of it, but what exactly is freedom? It seems that throughout most of history the ideal of freedom has related almost exclusively to the individualistic persuit of being free - freedom to do what we wanted, be who we wanted to be, live as we wanted to live, have what we wanted to have. If I'm right, it seems that this definition of freedom is really selfish. We use a lot of first person personal pronouns when we talk about freedom.

If any generation should be enjoying the fruits of our labors for freedom it should be ours. After all, we now live in country where anyone can vote. We can marry or enter a civil union with whomever we want, live with whomever we want, and we have the financial freedom to pretty much get into as much debt as multiple generations before us. But it is interesting to note that inspite of our pursuit of personal freedoms, we are the generation that seems the most - well sad. We have all the toys, credentials, opportunities and pleasures one could imagine. Yet, we are unhappy to our core. Broken relationships follow in our wake. We've graduated from pot and qualudes to Pristiq, Niaspan, and Viagra - still looking for the ever elusive moment of happiness emotionally, physically and sexually.

Is this all there is after a 50 year experiment searching for freedom? I hope not! In fact, I'm sure that there is more. My heart tells me there is more, the sunset in the evening tells me there is more, the Blue birds that my wife dotes over sing a song that tells me there is more, and Jesus promises me there is more.

Jesus said, "So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed." (Jn 8:36) and he went on to add, "you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." (Jn 8:32). So, freedom can be found in Jesus. In fact, it has been my experience and the experience of untold numbers that Jesus is the only way to freedom. The kind of freedom that is not just about me. The kind of freedom that empowers my living to be less selfish, more generous, open, loving and even sacrifical towards others.

Looking for freedom? Good, it's a worthy pursuit. Frustrated that your pursuit as to this point been fruitless and harmful? Man, do I understand that. Try the freedom that Christ promises. It is different- He is different!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Oh, Okay!

After a great deal of arm twisting I am finally joining the ongoing conversation in the blogsphere.  If this is like many other adventures, I may be showing up as the roadies are loading the equipment for the next show.  Anyone remember earth shoes, Polo cologne, and your high school graduation tastle hanging from the rearview mirror - yep that was me.

It seems like my life has been a series of seemingly random discussions - even when I'm the only one participating - about all things sublime and profane. So, if you've got nothing better to do, grab a cup of your favorite beverage and come play!