Wednesday, December 5, 2012

More Light, Less Heat - Please!

"The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth." John 1:14

This past Sunday a funny thing happened in worship. I witnessed grace in all of it's beauty pour over the rag tag followers of Christ who hang out at The Harbor Community Church. It was a beautiful moment, it was, I hope a transformational moment in our lives together.

It began with a dear friend openly, honestly, humbly, and with great confidence confess his decades long addiction to pornography - an addiction which has, in the last few years been overcome and overwhelmed by the healing nature of God's grace. My friend stood before his fellow travelers and just shared the truth of his pain. He talked about the pain, the cost, but most importantly he spoke of healing, of victory. And Grace just poured out among us.

It continued when the same friend introduced his friends - a mother and a son. The son shared that he has struggled with a same sex attraction all of his life - thus you can call him a homosexual. His story was not one of abuse but of an attraction to men that he never wanted, but could not deny. His story was striking as he shared that he came to believe that God couldn't love him, that religious people hated him so why try and struggle with the attraction. He told the story of a downward spiral into behaviors that tore at his soul. Yet, he believed that was his lot in life. By the way, he told these stories with his mother sitting by his side; her pride, pain, love and grace were clearly evident for her son.

And then as he spoke of asking God to take away this pain, this attraction, and the fact that God had not taken it away, but that God has made a way through the temptations so that he is now living a celibate lifestyle now and is committed to living as a celibate man who struggles with homosexuality, GRACE just poured out! His honesty, humility, openness, courage and grace were disarming, convicting and a beautiful reminder of mercy, love and truth.

From my vantage point on that Sunday I could see the faces of those who listened. When he asked how many had family and friends in their lives who were gay or lesbian I saw the large number of hands go up. When he talked I saw people lean forward and lean into what he said. I know this is a controversial issue and I know that some are going to jump to conclusions about myself and The Harbor Community Church (go ahead!). But what I witnessed that morning was GRACE. The kind of grace that heals, that encourages, that instructions, corrects, binds up, and heals.

John tells us that Jesus was full of grace and truth. I am thankful for that order. If Jesus had been full of truth and grace there would be no way for people like me and my friends who shared this past Sunday to ever experience grace. But because Jesus was full of grace and full of truth, he is approachable. Jesus does not ignore or condone our sinfulness - he paid the price for it! But nor does Jesus stand off and aloof demanding that we do what we cannot do - change, become good, stop looking at pornography, stop acting on our same sex attractions, stop drinking excessively, stop being a glutton - should I go on? Jesus stands before us clothed in grace. He is accessible to us in our pain and sin. He loves us as we are and too much to leave us that way.

I learned something at church this past week - imagine that! We all have our opinions, our prejudices, our interpretations, our fears - we all have this tendency to leave certain people outside of our love and God's grace. As we listened to each other this Sunday we learned, we grew, we became brothers and sisters, we experienced that overwhelming bonding of Grace.

I think what we need is more light and less heat. There have been enough sermons about homosexuality and those with an agenda. There have been enough commentators screaming that marriage is about to be destroyed. There have been enough parades and angry slogans shouted at those hateful Christians.  We need to sit down and listen to one another. We need to hear the grace in the stories of our pain. We need to see the grace in the other persons journey.

I am not saying it is time to abandon Truth. Grace would not be grace without truth and truth would be tyranny without grace.  When you face difficulties and are hard pressed to figure something out in the realm of Truth, trying trusting grace, trying acting in grace, trying giving grace it just might change us all.

I want to thank my friends who shared with us this past Sunday. I am a better person for having heard your stories and I want to learn more from the grace you have come to know in your journeys.

Friday, November 23, 2012

"Once More Unto the Breach"

      I will never forget the moment when I realized that what I thought was a simple case of laryngitis was in fact something far different. It was a Sunday evening, almost nine years ago. I had struggled with a hoarseness in my voice for about two months. I wrote off the symptoms as having to do with being outside in the cold a great deal, dealing with a typical winter head cold, allergies, or any other number of nuisance  issues.  However, that night as I took my place in the pulpit to deliver the Sunday evening message, I was unable to make a sound. I opened my mouth, formed the words as I had all of my life and nothing came out - not a raspiness, nor a scratchy sound, not even a whisper - NOTHING! I knew something was wrong when I saw the look on Pamela's face. I tried to apologize as best I could and eventually a friend in the congregation gave a very good impromptu message in my stead.
      That week I began a journey that started with a local doctor and journeyed to doctors in Chicago, Nashville, Memphis, and finally back to St. Louis.  I did not have some virus or other stress induced inflammation of my throat, in fact, the doctors argued amongst themselves as to what I had. One doctor told me I needed to have surgery on my vocal chords to remove a vocal node. One suggested I find another line of work, because as he put it, "You will not be able to speak above a whisper in ten years if you keep preaching and teaching with the same pace and schedule." I was eventually directed to a clinic in Chicago that was doing some experimental therapies. Fortunately that clinic was opening an office in St. Louis and I was able to go there for my treatments. I was entered into an experimental group with the goal of getting my voice capacity back to 85% of my original strength. The treatments worked and worked  very well. I achieved the 85% capacity within the treatment phase and was released from the test group within 18 months of this ordeal occurring.
     Since that time I have had little to no symptoms and very little issues with my voice. A great deal has changed in the intervening time; I no longer preach three times on a Sunday as well as teach twice on that same day. I now share messages in a much smaller venue and am no longer a full time pastor and my new work is not nearly as taxing on my voice.  Everything seemed fine until about a month ago.
    For the last two plus years I have been singing back up vocals and doing some lead vocals with our band This Side Up. Recently, I noticed that the sound people kept turning me up to the point of feed back in our sound system. I noticed that I was having trouble with certain high notes - I blame Bear Rinehart for writing "Image of Divine" in such a ridiculously high key! And, most significantly my wife and other people close to me began to ask me those unnerving questions about my voice.
     So, off to the voice doctor I went - having convinced myself I would never set foot in his office again, or swallow that scope again, or have that nasty taste in my throat from the analgesic which makes swallowing the scope easier. And yet here I was again - "Once More Unto the Breach"
     As a result I have learned the name for my problem - Cricoartyenoid Arthritis.  It is a form of Rheumatoid Arthritis that attacks the vocal chords, specifically the tendons and cartilage which support the vocal chords.  So where did this come from? Some say it is a secondary symptom to certain forms of "Arthritides", like Rheumatoid Arthritis, Reiter Syndrome, or gout. It can come as a result of the streptococcal bacteria, or it could come as a result of trauma to the head or neck. Of all of these possibilities I have had - well let's see! Gout - Yep, that really sucks. Step Throat, oh let me count the times! Head trauma - did I tell you I played fullback and my nick name was Tank?
   So why am I sharing this in this manner? Maybe I am that narcissistic, I hope not. Maybe to help others, 45-50% of all Rheumatoid Arthritis sufferers will have issues with the larynx - maybe someone will read this and learn something helpful. Or perhaps, this is the simplest venue to share this stuff with the largest amount of people instead of reciting this over and over and over!
     The medical plans are to begin again with the treatments that were effective before, adding to them an anti-inflammatory medication,and maybe a steroid injection in the area (that sounds medieval!).I begin a twelve session therapy this coming Monday.
     The issue for me is more mental and spiritual. I thought this was OVER! But apparently there is more to come and like many I will now need to learn to deal with an ongoing health issue. I don't have to look far for good examples of that. I am surrounded by people who courageously deal with chronic pain and health struggles on a daily basis. My wife, Pamela, is one great example of a person who deals daily with chronic pain and just finds a way to be herself and to be a blessing to others.
     I love being a part of This Side Up! I love making music with this band of miscreants, and I have really enjoyed singing in worship with them. Now, I will have to learn to be content to worship with my hands and feet, with cymbals, drums and sticks - thank God it's just my voice!
     I remember when all of this first started, Pam made the observation that I was afraid. Imagine that, someone having to tell another person they were afraid. Yet, looking back, it was the first issue in my life in which I can say I was truly afraid. I learned then what David meant when he said, "What time I am afraid I will trust in Thee." I began a journey learning to trust in God, not just to know of Him, about Him, but to trust in Him. And now I have the opportunity to continue that process.
     This is not a life threatening issue, nor is it career ending, it is just 'something' to deal with.  I am good at dealing with catastrophes; it's the little, daily,nagging junk that really gets under my skin! I want to know God's plan in all of this, I want to know what God has in store through this, but most importantly I want to know God better through this.
     So, to quote my favorite Shakespearean play, 'Henry V', "Once more unto the breach!"

Sunday, July 29, 2012

A Unique Opportunity: Two Churches One Location
An Open Letter to The Harbor Community Church

            Early this spring Greg Buettmann forwarded an email that we had received thru our website from Walt Eischmann, a member of Jefferson Hills Church which meets at Windsor High School in Imperial, MO.
           After 6 years of meeting and traveling around various facilities  in the Windsor campus   they began to look for an alternative meeting location. They learned what many new churches discover retail property is expensive. They were looking to rent, purchase outright, or purchase with the intent of subletting a portion of their space to recoup some of the costs.
            Somewhere in the course of their conversations the idea came up of approaching existing churches about renting space from them. They set the criteria that the church would have a similar outlook on church and ministry.  Walt began that search and came across our website thus the email I mentioned earlier.
            In response to that email, Greg Buettmann, Bill Smith  and I believed we should meet with them and hear what was on their hearts – after all this was the kind of weirdness that seems to be a part of our DNA. Bill and I had breakfast with Walt and the Lead Pastor, Steve Benke at Denny’s. It was amazing, Walt had the same passions as Bill and Steve and I had very similar stories and our journeys of the last few years mirrored each other.
            Steve and I both grew up in denominational life, went to college and seminary in denominational schools, served in denominational churches; in fact, we both served less than 10 miles from one another for 12 years and had never met. What a shame!
            From that breakfast meeting we  committed ourselves to meet again, this time with Greg.  As we all prayed together about the idea of sharing our space we went from asking God to making His will clear to asking God to stop this process if we were heading in the wrong direction.
            Eventually our leadership team and the leadership team of Jefferson Hills met  at The Harbor. I must say the first few minutes of the meeting were as awkward as an Eighth Grade Homecoming dance. We took the opportunity to go around the room and share how we came to be leaders in missional churches. This time of sharing solidified both groups understanding that first and foremost serving God this way was not a sign of insanity – there are others out there just like us! And secondly, we all sensed a wooing of God’s Spirit and a calling of our paths to be shared in a very unique way.
            So, today I am sharing with you that our Leadership Team, unanimously announces our plans to invite Jefferson Hills Church to share our space with us.
            Here are some pertinent details:
·         JHC will be paying us rent. We are working out the fine details of that this week.

·         We have developed a relationship covenant that has built in benchmarks that require both Leadership Teams to evaluate this relationship thoroughly. If one Leadership Team believes that there are problems in the process we have agreed that both Leadership Teams will view that as failure to achieve one of the benchmarks which will then allow us to part as family.
                     First Benchmark:This benchmark asks, “Can we exist side by side?” If so, consider ministry team partnerships.

                       Second Benchmark: This benchmark asks, “Can we exist side by side AND partner?” If so,
       consider longer term sustainability of shared vision.

                               Third Benchmark: This benchmark asks, “Can we exist side by side AND partner AND  pursue  a shared future?” If so consider site expansion/building purchase.
·         We will begin this relationship on September 30th with a combined time of worship here at THCC where we will have a joint outdoor service as an opportunity to get to know one another. We will have lunch together on that day. We will have a second combined worship experience on November 25th at Jefferson Hills Church.

·         We will then have at least three Test Drive Sundays. These are to give us the opportunity to gradually work together to get all the kinks out of the system as two churches learn to have worship in the same location at different times.  Once we finalize our plans we will post these dates here and in other avenues.

·        Worship Schedule. The schedule is; JHC worship @ 9AM; fellowship time from 10:00AM – 10:40AM; THCC Worship to begin at 10:45AM. The simplest way to explain this process is that this is what we would need to be doing if we were to plan two worship services on Sunday morning.

·          We will be asking you to help in several areas: parking lot attendants as we seek to help people navigate the coming and going of additional vehicles. We will be asking you to help with being guides to help people navigate entering and leaving the building.
There are many more details to be discussed and more information to be shared. We will do our best to keep you in the loop and answer any questions you may have. If this sounds like a strange idea – it is! But please remember, God is doing something very different among us and his grace has been sufficient to this point which should give us the confidence that he will lead us in this endeavor also.
In closing, just imagine the opportunity we will have to repair the image of 'church' in our community. Imagine the opportunity to join with a church and be blessed by their strengths and to assist them in their weaknesses. We each will be able to do ministry better and more effectively as we partner together to reach our community.
I am asking you today, to covenant together with our Leadership Team to pray daily about this opportunity. Pray that God will guide us clearly, that we will see and understand that leadership. Pray that we will be wise in this endeavor and get the little details right so as not to trip over minutia. Pray that this will be an opportunity to open the hurting and maybe closed off hearts of people who have been rejected by the church in the past, who have said, “I don’t want anything to do with those people!”. Pray that this will be an occasion for a fresh wind of God’s presence in our hurting community. And finally, pray that God and God alone will receive glory as Jefferson Hills Church and The Harbor Community Church seek to demonstrate that God has indeed made one people out of separate, cut off, fearful people.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

"Honor Thy Father and Mother"

       Recently I had a conversation with my dad that was amusing and troubling. I have begun to take on a role of helping my parents with some of their financial decisions - not a role I ever saw coming. With their selling their home, relocating and buying a new, smaller home, I have been involved in handling some of the finances for that process. Dad had asked me to send them some money from that transaction and I forgot to send the check!
     We both had a good laugh at the forgetfulness of a 49 year old son and an 82 year old father. I am grateful that my father did not get angry with me in the several day process of figuring out what had and had not been done.
     The troubling part though was the fear in his voice that he had made a financial error with the money and could not remember what he had done. In my journey around this globe, my father has been one of my most trusted and admired mentors. It was tough watching him loose his physical stature and not be able to physically do the things he had always done. But, I must say, watching his oncoming mental and emotional frailty is even harder. My dad is a business man. A great business man!  With the kind of business acumen that led his peers to seek out his advice, his church to depend upon his insight too much at times, and his son to  lean on him for financial and life wisdom daily.
     And now, well now it is a different story. Not that he is incompetent to make those decisions. Now he is afraid of those decisions, afraid he'll make a mistake and cause financial harm to he and my mother. In the midst of trying to figure out what had happened with a lost financial transaction, I could hear a fear and a bewilderment in his voice that was unfamiliar and disturbing. He sounded small, frail, and honestly old. Not the old that comes with age, but with stress and strain. My first inclination was to get off the phone and go hide somewhere, but in that odd twist of fate that aging places on fathers and sons I realized I could not just go away. He needed my help. Just writing that is intimidating to me.
     This should come easy for me. I should be prepared for this - after all I work for a Long Term Care ministry! But I must say it is a battle. It is a battle watching both of my parents age physically, but is a harder battle watching them age emotionally and mentally.
     Along the way I have watched a couple of friends go through the same journey. Honestly, they are farther along the journey than I and my siblings are at this moment. I have watched as they have made the complicated decision to place their moms in nursing facilities. I have even had the opportunity to help them in the process.
     Here's what I have learned so far:
  • This process sucks - for my more refined friends, sorry but this just sucks! No one wants to live in a nursing facility because of all that it means and no adult child wants to be the one who says, "Mom, I don't think you should live alone anymore."
  • Honoring your parents means learning to parent them as they grow less independent and more dependent on others.
  • Having friends who will walk with you through the process is invaluable.
  • Hard decisions are probably going to be the kinds of decisions we have to make in the rest of our times with our parents, so we need to get ready for it. They need us now, just as we needed them earlier in our lives.
  • God is real! Their eyes are clouding, their hearing is fading, their friends are dying in droves, their minds are dulling, but God is real to them. Thus, we must help them continue in their maturity in Christ.
      I am thankful that I failed to mail a check to my dad. It made me slow down and look at things realistically, get over the fear of what this all means, and try, really try, to get this right.
     When I was younger honoring my parents meant doing what they asked; take out the trash, come home at a decent hour, treat them with respect, and try not to screw up my life. Now, honoring my parents means not running away from their needs, being honest with them when honesty may not be what they want to hear, and walking this slowing journey with them.
In His Grace,
A fellow pilgrim trying to get it right.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

"All You Need is Love! Really?!"

What does it mean to love someone? No, seriously, what does love really look like? What does it mean to love as Christ loved us? Is that even possible?
Too often, I think we are grossly confused about love. We mistake human appetite for love, whether it's for chocolate, a medium-rare rib eye, or sex, we focus on how something or someone makes us feel and then evaluate whether or not that is love. In that aspect, love is a purely human and purely selfish reaction to the stimulus of the world around us. Surely love means more than just the reaction of our appetite or our libido?
Sometimes, I think we feel like love means we have to accept, overlook, even endorse harmful and dangerous behavior from others.  I don't know how many times I have heard, "Well, we have to love them anyway."  What does that mean? If someone we know is caught up in self-destructive behavior to stand aside with some anemic spiritual shrug, regurgitating some well worn platitude can't be all there is to love.
Seriously, there must be more - please there has to be more!
When I look at Jesus I see love and it is so intricate and faceted that it is almost beyond description. Here are just a few examples:
  • He turns water into wine to please his mother and avert an embarrassing situation for a bride's parents.
  • He made children the center of so many of his examples of how to follow him with simple joy and childlike whimsy.
  • He put himself between selfish, bigoted religious folk and a broken woman, so that she knew that, at last, someone cared for her.
  • He harshly, caustically criticized Peter for his petulance when He just told them He was going to die for them.
  • And, most importantly he crawled onto a cross and let love pierce his hands and feet and side and died as the ultimate example of love.
Somehow I think you and I need to re-evaluate what love means. It is more than just fulfilling our desires. It is more than finding affinity with those most like us. It is more than just ignoring the pain of others and the pain their pain inflicts on others.
Love is a radical thing! It is a dangerous thing! It is a simple thing! But it is a thing that will change everything!

Ah, so you see, "All You Need Is Love!"

Sunday, August 7, 2011

"A (not so) Long Strange Trip It's Been!

Pam and I took a rather interesting vacation a few days ago. Interesting because we were going somewhere new in places in which things were very familiar. First, we went to Eureka Springs for a quiet couple of days to celebrate our 29th Anniversary. Shhh, don't tell Pam Eureka Springs is a mecca for all things culturally liberal - it'll just mess up the experience for her!

Then, we went to visit my parents in their NEW home. Have your parents moved since you moved out of the house?  Am I the only one who found it really weird! When Kaitlyn heard that her Grandparents were moving she exclaimed, "They can't move that's Grandpa and Grandma's house!" However, in spite of my disquiet, mom and dad are more relaxed and at ease then they have been in years.  My sister is very nearby and she is having a ball 'playing' with our folks!

Next, we spent a few days hanging out with Pam's folks and helping them paint their new house -  what's with these 70 and 80 something's and new houses? My father in law and I have had our disagreements over the years, but we had a great time working, sweating, painting, sweating, eating, oh and did I say sweating?

Then, we went to my 30th High School Reunion (Ok, quit laughing at me!).  I was not sure what to expect and Pam confessed later that she was afraid she would be left out, but we had an absolute blast. There was a reason High School was so much fun.  It was the people!  Our class was loud, gregarious, mischievous, rebellious, and protective.  I would have never thought some would have grown to be the men and women they are today. And I think many of them were surprised that I am quite normal these days.

On Sunday of the week away, we had a great opportunity to worship together with my oldest (well she is!) sister.  Her church is trying to reach their culture there in the Tulsa area in a different way and seems to be having some real impact.  I have never been able to worship with my sister at her church in all of my 48 years. It was a true joy to stand beside her, sing with her, praise God together with her and celebrate our Lord together - thanks Sis!

Then, we made the trip back home. Home - hmmm, while the time away was great, returning home was even better. For the first time in a long time, I really looked forward to getting back home, back to work, back to the fellowship of fellow strange ones at The Harbor! 

And all this reminded me of Jerry's words, "What a long strange trip it's been!"  Amen.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

A Humbling Opportunity

A few days ago, I received a reply from Gateway Church in Austin, TX to a request I had made about some small group materials they were offering, for free by the way!  The reply asked how we had heard about Gateway and the book by their pastor John Burke, "No Perfect People Allowed."  As a result of a very simple conversation, our story is now a part of their church planting network's blog.

Iam posting the link here to give you an opportunity to read our story from a different perspective.

In His Grace