Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Originality is Overrated

One of the great contradictions of my life, if I can be so bold and self-revealing in a first sentence of a blogpost, is that I want so badly to be unique, but in reality, my life is not all that different from anyone else's. I desire to be special, when in fact, I am special in some ways, but in many other ways, I am pretty ordinary. Most of all, the burning desire of my heart has always been to be original, but in truth, my life is so much like the lives of so many people who have come before me. I am unoriginal!

Recently, I was having lunch with a nice man who had come up to visit Highlands Church and to study all of the ways that Highlands Church is innovative. He wanted to know what our church was doing that was, "cutting edge ministry," "carving out a new path for faith," "charting a new course for Christ followers." I was honored by the fact that he wanted to visit our city and church to learn about who we were and what we were doing. I always am. But then I noticed a change in his demeanor. I noticed it, about three-quarters of the way through lunch (the moment when big realizations always occur in a lunch - though that is the subject of a different blog post). I noticed his disappointment. It cascaded like spring water, crashing down a Yosemite canyon.

"So, you do Maundy Thursday services?" "Yeah," I said. "And you do Christmas worship with traditional carols and a traditional text?" "Yep," I acknowledged. "And you start your Easter Services with the phrase, 'He is Risen?' "That's right, I said. I could see this man's hopes and expectations deflate like a hot air balloon cresting over the Himalayas. I could see his unease with our traditionalistic church liturgies and customs. We were - sin of all sins - unoriginal!

Then I gave him the Full Lewinsky (a phrase I am lifting for the use of this blog post, originally used in the wake of the Bill Clinton, Lewinsky scandal, where a person actually did all seven Sunday morning television talk shows, for the first time in history, in one single sitting). "I am a fourth generation Presbyterian Minister," I told him. He actually then said, "You're kidding right?" What he instantly saw was that not only was I not as original as he had hoped, but that I might even be the walking poster child for unoriginality.

Here's the truth. I have tried, with every crevice of my body and soul, to be original my entire life. I have tried to be outside the box. I have wanted to be a "new thing that springs up" (as the book of Isaiah so eloquently puts it). But I must admit that I am not. In some ways, what happened for me, is that my quest for originality began to become a form of idolatry in and of itself.

It was only after I realized, somewhere in my 25th year, that originality is overrated, that I began to become, really, who God wanted me to be. What I have come to learn is that my main originality as a person comes from the original love which God gives me every day. I love how the apostle Paul described himself to the church in Corinth, "I Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ, by the will of God...." (1 Cor. 1:1). What Paul was acknowledging in this first sentence was that he was just like all of the other disciples. No better, no worse. He was unoriginal in Christ.

That's what I strive to be!

All for Now,

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Three Lessons from the Business World

Sometimes I think that we in the church feel we have all of the answers, all of the time, for all of the world's problems. While I, of course, believe that the church should have some of the key answers, to some of life's issues, I don't think we have lock on the market (so to speak). While I believe that the ultimate questions (about life and death, and eternal life and death) are all answered by the Bible, I also believe that we can also learn a lot from the "outside world." Here are three things I learned about church growth this week, while talking to people in local businesses around Paso Robles.

* Gas prices effect business (Big Time!). A local business own told me that they always know when business is going to be bad, based on the evening news. When the evening news does a report on the cost of gas going up, their business vastly decreases. When church leaders plan large church functions (like VBS, or Easter, or a Family BBQ), how often do we turn to one another and ask, "What are the gas prices right now? How is Libya doing? What is the condition of OPEC?"

* When people leave your business to go to a competitor, the purchaser always feels worse. This little tid-bit was actually offered to me by a local dentist. He told me that when people leave his practice, and go to another dentist in town, it is always the patient that feels worse than the doctor. People will actually avoid my dentist friend on the street, rather than have to say, "hi!". My friend told me that his tactic is always to "normalize" the exit, and allow the person who left his business to feel better about the experience.

* When a person leaves a business, they will always come back, and then, you charge them double. This nugget of wisdom was offered to me by my hair stylist. I asked her, "Do you ever feel bad if someone leaves to get their hair done in another salon?" Her answer was distinct and unforgettable. "No," she said, "I don't feel bad. I don't feel bad because I always know they will come back, and when they do, I charge them double." What if we charged people who left church double, after they got back? Maybe not....

All for now,

Friday, March 18, 2011

Don't Tip Toe Around The Cross

It's Friday evening and I just returned from my two week DMin. (Doctor of Ministry) class at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California. When I say that I just returned, I mean...just returned - my car is engine is still hot and the frame is ticking - the characteristic sound of a car cooling down. I love that sound...but that's a different blog post...

I wanted to write down an idea that I heard this weekend from Dr. Paul Pierson (former chair of World Missions at Fuller Seminary, former pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Fresno, and 17 year missionary in Brazil), and who I am lucky enough to call a friend and mentor. The idea has been one which I have been mulling, contemplating, sorting-through, pulling-apart, synthesizing and thinking about for the past three hours.

Don't Tip Toe Around the Cross.

So, Paul Pierson and I have been talking for the past hour or so, and I am at his front door, in Monte Vista Grove, where he lives. I notice a book on the way out called, "The Atonement" by Tom Torrence. "Light reading?" I ask Paul. "Yeah, I try to read some serious stuff every now and then, to keep my mind fresh." Then he says, "I'll tell you a story about Tom Torrence. I (meaning Paul) and Tom Gilespie were at Tom's bedside as he was about to die. We had said our goodbyes, then, we were slowly walking out. All of a sudden, Tom, quickens from his bed, and says, 'One last thing fellas...don't ever tiptoe around the cross.' Then," said Paul, "Tom died. Those were literally Tom Torrence's last words...Don't Tip Toe Around the Cross." As I waved Paul goodbye at Monte Vista, he yelled out to me, "Remember, Don't Tiptoe Around the can preach that!!!"

And so I will...but what does it mean?

I just returned from my trip to Pasadena, as I mentioned, and Star and Haley were both asleep. I didn't want to wake either of them up, as I know how hard it was to get Haley down for her nap, earlier this afternoon. I quietly opened the front door, and I quietly moved through the house, and I furtively came into my office here where I am writing this blog post. I TIP TOED. Why? Because I didn't want anyone to notice. I didn't want to bother anyone. I didn't want to wake them up, or cause them alarm, or do anything that made them notice that I was here. I want them to sleep.

"Don't Tip Toe Around the Cross" - must mean the same thing. It must mean living the Christ following way by:
* Not worrying who notices
* Not being upset about bothering people about it
* Not caring whether we 'wake people up'
* Not worrying if we cause people alarm
* Not just letting them sleep.

I had better go and unpack my car...very quietly:-)

All for Now,

Friday, March 11, 2011

Pink Snow

Here's just an FYI: A big part of the reason that I write a blog post is so that I can remember some of the thoughts that I have throughout the week. It's highly selfish in that respect. I have always found that when I get an idea, or I see something beautiful, or I have an incredible conversation, or I witness a remarkable act of kindness, that if I quickly write that experience down, I can imprint it on my brain in a deeper way than if I simply try to remember the episode. An even better way to imprint a thought on my mind and soul is to write an experience down, and then read it aloud, so that it re-enters my consciousness through my ears. The imprinting goes deeper and deeper, the more that repeat this process. I had a New Testament professor as an undergraduate at Macalester College in St. Paul Minnesota (Dr. Calvin Reotzel) that once gave me the great advice that, "You don't know what you think until you write about it."

So, here's the thing that I want to try to imprint on my brain - today - and that I want to try to think deeply about, and not ever forget...

As I was driving home today from Pasadena, Fuller Theological Seminary, and my Doctoral class seminar on Conflict Management, I noticed something very strange, on each side of the car, outside my driver's seat window...

Pink Snow!

Flanking each side of my car, as I bulleted up I-5, were almond trees (AMAND Trees if you are from Fresno or the Central Valley - they are aLmonds until you knock the "L" out of them...). These almond trees were in full bloom last week as I was making my way down to Fuller. The limbs of the almond trees were verdant, and heavy, with beautiful, frollicky, pink blossoms. They vaguely reminded me of the cherry blossoms that I witnessed in Washington, D.C., as a youth, that shrouded the Jefferson memorial. The pinkness was reminiscent of a well made cherries jubilee, a flock of flamingos, a fushia colored cadillac on Rodeo drive. But this pinkness was on the ground, not on the trees.

After a week of storms and wind, the almond blossoms had all been blown off of the trees, and were covering the ground in a deep, blanketing, frothy, fluffy, feathery, kind of way. I really did have to turn twice on each side to figure out what the pink coloring on the ground was. After peering for some time at this natural phenomenon, I determined, at long last that it was, in fact;

Pink Snow!

Then I quickly reflected on this verse from Paul in the book of Romans; "Ever since the creation of the world, the invisible existence of God and his everlasting power have been clearly seen by the mind's understanding of created things." (Romans 1:20).

That's all,

God created Pink Snow!! I want to remember it. Now hopefully you will too!

All for now,