Wednesday, December 26, 2012

27 Bells?

Last Friday I was asked to do a television interview for a local news station (ABC news, KRDO) regarding First Presbyterian Church's decision to ring the bells in our church bell tower 26 times, one for every child and teacher that was killed in the Newtown school disaster, one week before.  When the Connecticut governor requested that downtown churches peel their bells for this commemoration, First Pres was happy to oblige.  The interviewer asked me the usual questions that get asked at such moments, "How could God allow such things to happen?" "What is the local church's response?" "How are local groups guarding themselves from similar calamities?"  However, one question that the interviewer asked caught be by surprise, and has been ringing (so to speak) in my own ear and heart ever since, "Why aren't you ringing 27 bells?"

What the interviewer was asking is why isn't there a bell being rung for the death of the killer himself?  It's an intriguing question, and deeply theological question.  The immediate simple response is that we were only requested to ring 26 bells by the Connecticut government office.  However, the deeper question is, "When is it appropriate to grieve and remember the loss of someone who acted completely against the will of God?"  "When is a good time to forgive?"  "When is a good time to recognize that all people are made in the image of God, even fallen murders?"  

One of the things that the Bible seems to be very clear about is that forgiveness is a mandate for the human soul, not simply a request.  When Jesus said we should forgive our brothers who have wronged us, "7 X 77" he meant it.  However, another strong Biblical notion is the concept of time and the power of the Holy Spirit to work within us to help us to accomplish things that we could not do on our own.  


Forgiveness should be enacted by primary parties, in the primary stages of any wrongdoing.  For example, it would be very wrong for me as a Caucasian Scottish American to offer forgiveness to those who committed atrocities in slavery in the 19th century in America.  That sort of forgiveness must be offered by those who were actually enslaved.  Equally, it is the families of those who lost children and loved ones in the Newtown tragedy which must be the primary agents of offering forgiveness in this crisis.  


One of the most poignant examples of the long process of forgiveness in the Bible involves the character of Joseph in the Old Testament, who is sold into slavery by his own brothers.  Joseph is sold into indentured servitude, wrongfully accused of lechery, sent to prison for many years, made to work in Pharaoh's government, and then, many years later, he is faced with the question of whether to forgive his brothers, who come to him for help.  The tables are turned!  Interestingly, even when the brothers approach the Pharaohnic throne, Joseph seems to take his time in forgiving them.  He sends for his youngest brother, Benjamin.  Joseph talks to his brothers at length, toys with them, interacts with them, all processes in the process of forgiveness.  It is only after Joseph, at long length, reveals himself to his brothers as their long estranged brother that reconciliation occurs.  

How would this process even begin to work in the case of families who will never get loved ones back again, and a killer who is no longer alive?  God only knows!  Really, God ONLY KNOWS.  Which is why this interviewee did not glibly offer a simple solution to a very complex occurrence of wrongdoing, whilst ringing the bells on a cold Friday morning in December.

All For Now,


Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Daddy's Here!

Last week, First Presbyterian of Colorado Springs went into a period of mourning and remembering the lives of those little children who died in the Connecticut mass shooting.  All week long, people we have been thanking me for my image of an "Everlasting Father" that met those children who died on that fateful day.  Several people have asked for a copy of that illustration and section from my message.  Here it is;

1.        Having An Eternal Father Means We Have An Eternal Comforter For All Of Eternity
I heard a true story recently about a little boy from Lowell Indiana,  who was in
his room praying one night.  This little boy had just learned the Lord’s Prayer, and he was trying to recite it by himself that night.  The boy asked to be left alone to pray, though his own Dad was at the door, listening to him pray.  The little boy got down on his knees before his bed, and he began his prayer this way, “Our Father, Who Art in Heaven, I Know You Know My Name…” (Our Father, Who Art In Heaven, I Know You Know My Name).
            From the mouths of babes.  Our Father knows our name, and will know it for eternity.  And will be with us for eternity.  And will comfort us for eternity.  And I don’t know about you but as I have thought about the events of this past week, in my mind, the shooting in Connecticut, that is about the only thing that can bring comfort to my mind. 
            There is a picture of a line of children being escorted out of the elementary school in a line, which was on the cover of the Gazzette and the Post, and is now famous around the country.  It is a picture of the children all closing their eyes and shuffling out of the tragedy scene in the school of the blood and broken glass, they have closed their eyes, so that they cannot see what is there.  (And I don’t know about you, but I feel the same way, a person who just wants to close their eyes to this, and to shuffle out without looking).
            But an image came to my mind this past couple of days.  The image is that of Jesus, the Everlasting Father, coming into that classroom at the very moment that the children died, and saying, "Daddy's Here!  OK, this is what I want you to do.  I want you to all close your eyes.  And then, I want you to put your hands on the shoulders of the person in front of you, and then I want you to start to just walk slowly.  Keep your eyes closed so that you don't see all of the bad stuff.  And I will lead you to heaven."  And then, Jesus Christ, leading out the little children, who were lost, goes at the front of the line. 

Of course, none of us will really know exactly how God interfaced with those children on that day.  But our Bible tells us that we have an "Everlasting Father", an AD AV, who will be a comforter for all of us, on this side of the grave and on that, for all of eternity.

All For Now,

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Them That Nobody Wants

About seven years ago, I was attending a national pastor's conference somewhere (I literally cannot recall where at this moment, goes to show you how life all runs together sometimes..and a river runs through it...), and I heard Matt Barnette, senior pastor of The Dream Center near Echo Park, California speak.  Matt is the son of Tommy Barnette, the famed Pentacostal preacher and church builder.

Matt spoke about how he decided to begin a totally different ministry from his father.  He wanted to do something in the inner city, and really connect with gangs and drug addicts and homeless people, and all the tapestry of brokenness that one finds in urban settings.  Matt eventually bought an old hospital (by sheer miracle of God, raising something like $7 million needed to buy it - Matt had nothing when he started).  Matt recalls how one time a gang member that he was trying to help to become a Christ follower, pulled a gun on him, put it to Matt's temple and said, "get out of here, or I will shoot you, M#?#?# F?@?@?er."  Matt literally said that he thought he was going to be killed at that moment.

After about three years of this incredibly intense ministry, Matt said that he began to wonder whether God really was doing anything in his ministry, whether God really had a plan for his life, whether God was really still in this thing called ministry.  As Matt was walking across Echo Park one day, at that time a drug bedridden place of crime and fallenness, he literally heard this voice from God;

"Matt, if you take care of the people that nobody wants, I will send you the people that everybody wants."

Matt later said that this was a turning point in his ministry.  What Matt struggled most with was the notion that he was "wasting" his life with people that were not worth "wasting" life on.  What Matt soon found is that God was sending him all kinds of people to help with his ministry.  Hollywood became engaged in Matt's ministry.  The actress Sharon Stone actually became a member and a large contributor to the church.  Other big names have gotten involved over the years.

Now, obviously this entire concept of having people that "everybody wants" come to your church is not exactly a highly spiritual motivation for starting a ministry.  It is probably not a good metric for a ministry to see it as a trade off of (1) taking care of homeless people on the one hand, (2) so movie stars will come to your church down the road.  However, Matt thought has got me thinking.

Who are the people that nobody wants in my current ministry setting?  Who are people that society has deemed "unworthy, un-cared for, un-wanted, un-needed, un-necessary, un-attractive, un-valued?"  Who are the "Uns?"  And then, secondly, who are the people that "everybody wants" in a church?

I have no distinct or solid answer for this.  But I am thinking deeply!  What are your thoughts?

All For Now?

Saturday, November 24, 2012

What's Graham Reading???

This week, the Baird family are all in La Jolla (pronounced la hoya, as in oscar de la hoya, no matter what the gps system on my rental car says).  In addition to toting along an entire collection of baby parapranalia; pack and plays, bottles, strollers, baby backpacks, and formula, I have strapped in about 6 books that I am trying to be through, before we return on Wednesday.

Whenever I get a chance, I like to know what people are currently reading.  The answer to this question gives me a sense about what people are thinking, who they are currently being influenced by, or if they are thinking at all.  This is my thanksgiving reading list for 2012:

"The Generals; American Military Command from World War II to Today", by Thomas E Ricks.  Living in Colorado Springs, I thought I might learn something about leadership from the likes of Omar Bradley and Stormin Norman Schwartzkoff.

"The Book of Job; When Bad Things Happen to A Good Person" by rabbi Harold Kushner.

"Every Good Endeavor; Connecting Your Work to Gods Work", by Timothy Keller

"Life, God and Other Small Topics" by Eic Metaxas

"Midnight in Peking" Paul French.  Hey, all work and no play makes a pastor a dull boy....

"The Book of Books; The Radical Impact of The King James Bible", by Melvyn Bragg.

I think that about does it.  Oh yeah, I've been reading one more book quite extensively, "Barbar Goes On Vacation," Haley's new favorite tome....

See you when I return, unless I find another book shop in La Jolla and buy some more books....

All For Now,

Saturday, November 17, 2012

A Mission Statement

At the risk of possibly offending a few more blog post readers again this week by touching on the area of politics (I can't help myself, I was a Political Science undergraduate, and this recent election is just too tantalizing not to talk about), I want to try to draw one more lesson from the recent Presidential election that we just experienced.

BTW:  For those of you trying to figure out my own political party or leanings, you won't be able to.  I have worked for Republicans on Capitol Hill and I have voted for Democrats in my life.  Most important, I gave up politics when I entered the Ministry of the Word and Sacrament, a vow of political celibacy if you will, and a personal avowal never to focus on such things as a career path again.  It has always been my firm belief that healthy churches must be "a-political", and that, as the Bible says, "The nations are as a drop in the bucket" compared to the unending power and glory of God (Isaiah).

But here's my thought for the week...

E.J. Dionne (a Progressive columnist I must add), recently wrote an op-ed piece for the Gazette in which he outlined the strategy that the Republicans must take if they are ever to win major election again.  The strategy, interestingly enough is known as the "Colorado Strategy" (E.J. is from Washington, writing about Colorado).  The "Colorado Strategy" is the the strategy that purportedly the Democrats used to help to win Colorado as a state in the electoral college.  The strategy goes like this; "It's a view that a  political party's long term future depends on moderate, younger and suburban voters, especially women, combined with a growing Latino electorate."  That's it.

Now, here's my big thought.  E.J.'s "Colorado Strategy" is not simply a wise strategy of action for a political party, it is also a wise strategy of action for a church or congregation that wants to have a lasting impact on the face of Christianity.  It is, simply put, a mission statement for a church that wants to remain viable.  A healthy evangelical church must focus on;

Moderate People:  Most of the world, statisticians will tell us, are actually moderate.  Moderate right or moderate left, but most people are in the middle.  Historically, Evangelicalism has done very well with very conservative people, but not done as well with people who are basically in the middle.  Now, I want to be clear about what I am not saying.  I am not saying that the evangelical church should give up any of it's orthodox views about any number of issues (same sex, incarnation of Christ, a culture of life, etc...).  However, what I am saying is the the church needs to make as it's mission focus people who are less politically right leaning than we have historically done.

Younger People:  This goes without saying.  The church needs to get younger.  However, a healthy church doesn't just want to attract younger people to sit in the "pews" but, rather, also to participate in active service at all levels of church leadership.  The church needs younger people preaching (as in people in their 20's and 30's), it needs younger people greeting, ushering, teaching, endearing, deaconing...etc.

Suburban People:  Suburban neighborhoods have actually become the new enclave of huge "non-denominational" churches.  Willow Creek, Saddle Back, Mariners, and many other huge churches are basically suburban neighborhoods.  What I think is often missing from evangelical pushes and reaches into suburban neighborhoods, however, is that there is often a huge lack of "earthiness" (for lack of a better term), with suburban churches.  There is often a lack of a dirty, gritty, down to earth, grimy, realistic, salty theology, and faith.  This is where downtown churches (like First Pres Colorado Springs) can, I think market and utilize it's natural downtown "earthiness" to meet the needs of those living in brand new suburban neighborhoods.

Women:  This is the aspect of Reformed Theology that I am most proud of.  Women have always been a central voice, presence, and witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Women have the ability and authority to be in leadership at all levels of the Presbyterian Church (PCUSA, and ECO) movement.  This obviously must continue to be a mainstay.

Latino People:  Again, this last election's Latino population are what most political scientists suggest was the single most important factor in swaying the election.  California, alone has a Latino population that is now over 50% of the general base.  This natural melting pot dynamic of Latino people moving to the country is something that the evangelical movement simply cannot take for granted very much longer.  All churches who want to remain viable heading into the next millennia, need to take Latino (my friend Israel Gonzales sort of bristles at this term Latino, and prefers Hispanic) people seriously!

That's all.  Now, I'm going to San Diego for Thanksgiving, where I will hopefully not have to think about politics again, at least for another four years....

All For Now,

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Money Can't Buy You Change

This week, I want to wade ever so carefully and gingerly into the world of politics.  No, I don't want to make any outright political prognostications, or statements - except to say that the city of Colorado Springs, in general (99% Republican), is in a deep state of grief and loss about the election results of this past Tuesday.  I have literally altered my sermon outline for 2013 to include an entire series entitled; "Restore - Coping With The Grief and Loss that All of us Face."  (This new series is prompted in part by the grief experienced from the election, for many people in my community).

No, in this week's blogpost, I simply want to reflect on the age old truism that money cannot create change.  To paraphrase the Beatles who sang about how, "Money Can't Buy You Love," I want to state emphatically that;

Money Can't Buy You Change!

Here's the Facts: More money was spent on this recent Presidential election than any other Presidential election in United States history.  Depending upon the source that one sites, the amount spent by both Presidential candidates hovers somewhere between $5.8 billion dollars (Politico), and $2.4 billion dollars (Time).  Each candidate individually spent cash (as opposed to money given to Superpacks) in ranges hovering just below the $1 billion mark [$934 million Obama, $881.8 million Romney].  And here's the thing I am hoping to drill home.  What did this money buy the candidates?  Effectively, the change of only two states in the entire electoral college map (Indiana and North Carolina.)  Indiana and North Carolina were Obama states in the first election in 2008, and they went to Romney in 2012.  No other states changed from the election year 2008 until 2012.  None.  Nearly $6 billion was spent to change two states...

One wonders if it might have been more worthwhile to simply pay individual residents of the states of North Carolina and Indiana to vote a certain way.  The payout for residents of both states would be something in the range of $20,000 per person.  That would have been a lot of college loans, credit card debts, mortgage payments, that could have been paid off.

Now, I am not saying that money can't buy you something.  Money can buy you a whole lot of stuff.  Money can buy great vacations, money can buy dream houses, money can buy wonderful cars, money can buy awesome clothes, money can buy a lot of food for starving people in third world countries.  Money can buy a lot, but money cannot buy change.

Jesus knew this.  Jesus knew that change (META - turning) (NOIA - thinking) only really happens from above.  A wise preacher once told me that repentance, "metanoyia", is like God pulling the strings on the puppets that we occupy as humans.  We can't move/change ourselves, only God can.  Jesus also knew that one of the seductive qualities about money is that it seems powerful enough to change almost any earthly dynamic.  When the rich young ruler comes to Jesus and finds that he is lacking in the area of revenue generosity, Jesus says, "It is harder for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."  Jesus knew that one of the reasons for this is that the very thing, commodity, that we humans feel is a change agent, is the same thing that is also a corrupting force.

So, how does real change occur in an individual or a system?  My experience has been that it requires time.  Change requires diligence.  Change requires a fine attention to the souls of individuals who want to change.  The leadership of an institution or an individual body must be willing to change.  Change happens from above.  Change requires full commitment or a group effort.  An organization cannot change on a level that outpaces the leader's ability to change.  Change requires two steps forward and one step backward.  Change, to quote the poet, William Butler Yates, "comes dropping from the veils of the morning, dropping to where the cricket sings."  Change happens slowly.  True change happens permanently.

Most of all, change requires the presence and the active participation of the Holy Spirit!  But, Money Can't Buy You Change...

"Everybody tells me so..." (Beatles)

All For Now,

Monday, November 5, 2012

Thin Places

Just a strong caveat before I begin this week's blogpost - my Free-Kirk (definition: very conservative Presbyterian Scottish Reformed theology), Scottish grandmother who is now in heaven would not like this one.  She would have been very suspicious of all things related to "Celtic Spirituality."  I am about to write about Celtic Spirituality.

So, Sorry grandma...

Recently, while reading Tony Campolo's book, "Letters to a Young Evangelical" (A good book, but be prepared to argue out loud with it vociferously at times), I came across the term - "Thin Places".  Thin Places, is a term derived from Celtic Spirituality which describes a place or a state of being where God is particularly connected with an individual.  So called, "Thin Places" are places where the distance between heaven and earth are relatively thin, where there seems to be a closer connection between God and God's followers.  In the words of a pastor who is more familiar with the term than I am, “A thin place,” is a place where the boundary between heaven and earth is especially thin. It’s a place where we can sense the divine more readily.” 

Certain characters from the Bible seem to have experienced thin places during certain moments of their lives.  Moses seemed to experience a thin place on the top of the mountain while speaking with God through a burning bush.  Abraham seemed to experience a thin place when three visitors encountered him in the middle of the wilderness, and told him he and Sara were about to have a child.  Mary, the mother of God, experienced a thin place when an angel of the Lord met her and told her, "not to be afraid," that she was to be with child, and that his child was going to be the savior of the world.  One might argue that everywhere Jesus walked in the first century land of Judah was, in itself, a thin place.

As I have ministered to people over these past 12 years of ordained call, I have witnessed many people who were in the midst of thin places.  Most often, people seem most connected to God when they are in the midst of, or when they have just passed through some great spiritual test.  The death of a loved one can be an example of just such a spiritual test.  The loss of a job, the transition to a new city, the beginning of a new venture, the ending of a life chapter, the birth of a new child, the movement from work to retirement can all be examples of thin places, where God seems especially close, or rather, we seem especially close to God.

At the risk of using the most cliched story ever told, the famous story of the man who walked along the beach and saw two footsteps in the sand, and then the period where he saw only only set of footsteps in the sand, and then wondered why God had abandoned him at that moment.  And then God saying, "That's when I was closest to you, I was carrying you, those footsteps were my own."  This is a perfect example of a thin place, where God is literally closer to us, when we need Him than ever before.

The reason I am writing this blogpost, I suppose, is because I feel that I am in just such a thin place in my spiritual walk right now.  I feel like my heart is a great hubble telescope, searching the heavens for images, thoughts, ideas, concepts, meaning and theological truth.  And, like the hubble telescope, my heart is picking up sooo many rich ideas and concepts and truths, I feel which are being sent to me by God.

So, I'm in a thin place.  This thin place will not last forever, but I'm going to make the most of it while I am in it.

Again, sorry grandma,

All for Now,

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Do You Love Yourself?

A week or so ago, I came home from work, with my briefcase slung over one shoulder - my clothes were rumpled and creased from a long day at work.  My four year old daughter greeted me at the door with a hug (sometimes leave it to Beaver isn't just a TV show).  After she hugged me, Haley looked intently up into my eyes and said, " you love yourself?"  It was sort of one of those deep and jarring moments a parent sometimes has around an awkward question.  I might have been less thrown off by my daughter's question if she had asked, "Daddy...will you tell me where babies come from?"  Something about Haley's question pierced deeply into my soul.  Do I love myself?  Is it ok to love myself?  Can my daughter tell that I don't always love myself?  Is it that obvious?  How did she get so smart?  I tried to recover with a similar and parental retort; "Yes, I think I do Haley.  Do you love yourself?"  And Haley shot back with an instant smile and a "YES...daddy."

But let me put the same piercing question to you today.  Do you love yourself?  If you are like me the question meets you with a strange mix of of self-consciousness and embarrassment.  But why?  We are told by psychologists that unhealthy self love can develop into a kind of self-adoration (or narcissism) [Actually narcissism the way it is classically understood by the DSMIV is not a developed personality trait but an ingrained behavior disorder].  Loving ourselves, as we often think about it seems strange and aberrant.  However, the Bible is clear that loving ourselves is a central part of our ability to love God and to love others.

When Jesus is asked the trick question by the pharisees, "What is the most important law?" [Side note, there were two separate arms of pharisaism/sadducism in the first century.  There were those who felt that the first four commandments were the most important, those relating to God.  And there were those who felt the second set, 5-10 were the most important, those relating to humans.  Jesus does not fall for this trick.]  Jesus response was, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind and all your strength," and the second is like it, "love your neighbor."  The final piece is the one that relates to the love of ourselves...."love your neighbor AS yourself."  The Greek word for AS here is tough to pin down, but the notion is that we should love our neighbors "IN THE SAME WAY AS" we love ourselves.  And the fact that Jesus suggests we should love God in same way that we should love our neighbor (in like manner), the suggestion is even more stark.  We should love ourselves in the same way that we love God.

And of course, the implication here is just as startling.  If we don't love ourselves in the same way, or with the same amount of "heart, soul, mind and strength" as we love God and we love our neighbor, we are not hitting the mark of perfection that God seeks from us.  Actually, one fundamental form of fallenness for humans is the inability to love ourselves as we love God and we love our neighbor.  Great, I now have another thing to ask forgiveness for, not loving myself as God wants me to love myself.

About an hour later, I found my daughter Haley playing with her stuffed animals in her room.  I came in and I asked, "Haley, can I ask you a question?"  She said, "yes,"  "Do you love yourself?"  Haley said, "Daddy, I already answered that question.  Yes I do."  Quite right!  Multiple answers to the question of whether we love ourselves or not might imply that we are somehow insecure about the answer, and that we need to work on that healthy God given form of self love.  And so, I will just write it down as a beginning point of self-discovery...


There I feel better...

All For Now,

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Refocus on the Family

For this week's blog post, I am inserting a section of a new book published by my friend, Jim Daly, CEO and Director of Focus on the Family.  Jim's book is full of great insights about how evangelicals should engage the larger culture on issues that we hold dear and upon which we have strong convictions.  Jim kindly uses an illustration from my own ministry (enclosed here) to help illustrate how loving Christ followers need to interact with people who come from all different areas of dysfunction and brokenness.

The following incident actually occurred at Highlands Church while I was serving as founding pastor there in about 2009.  The example represents the kind of church that I feel God is calling us all to be - loving and full of mercy!

Excerpted from “ReFocus: Living a Life That Reflects God’s Heart” (Zondervan)
The law was brought in so that the trespass
might increase. But where sin increased,
grace increased all the more.

The Reverend Graham J. Baird is the senior pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Colorado Springs. Prior to coming to Colorado, Graham served as the founding pastor of Highlands Church in Paso Robles, California. The ministry started with twenty-five people in a drive-in movie theater and has since grown to over two thousand weekly attenders. Graham’s philosophy has been to pull down the barriers and make it easier for those wanting to come to church to learn about God. He has done a good job. Wherever he’s been a pastor, whether in rural California or the front range of the Rocky Mountains, he has led with a straightforward ministerial motto: “No perfect people allowed”—pastor included.
During his time in Paso Robles, Graham encountered a variety of family scenarios, including a lesbian couple married in a state where same-sex marriage was legal. They began coming to his church and eventually had twins via in vitro fertilization. He had an opportunity to lovingly share the Bible’s perspective on human sexuality. They continued to attend. When the couple asked to have their children baptized, he had a dilemma on his hands. According to his Reformed theology, the baptism of a child does not “save” a person but represents a commitment from the Christian parent to raise the child—or children—in the faith. Graham explained that given the couple’s same-sex relationship, he couldn’t ask them to present the child and make that commitment since they weren’t actually members of the church. They were disappointed. Graham asked why they didn’t simply find a church that would accommodate their request. Their response was powerful. “This is the only church where we have felt loved in,” they told him. The children were later presented for baptism by their grandparents, who were members of the church.
Graham went on to explain what I believe strongly—that people know very quickly whether or not they are loved. The fact that this couple continued to attend—even though the church’s theology with regard to sexuality was at odds with their personal actions—suggests that Highlands Church truly loved them for a variety of reasons, but especially for this one: They know that nobody is beyond the reach of God.

All For Now,

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Spiritual Rhythm

This past week I discovered a new Spiritual truth about life - rhythm is more important than rest!

So, because I have a new 7 week old baby in my life, and because I am new on the job at First Pres as it's new Senior Pastor, I have been sort of "scrambling" over the past month or so to figure out how to juggle it all (I hasten to add that it's been a fun juggle!).  My regular day off is Friday, but because I have had several weekend work related tasks on Friday and Saturday, this past week I took Monday off instead.  Again, I figured that it would be easy to change one day for another, to trade out one slot with another slot, to switch days off, move them around, like cards on a poker table.  What I found, of course, was exactly the opposite.  I found that that since I usually take days off on Friday, my system, by body was used to Friday as a day off, and since I usually work on Monday, my system is used to Monday to work.  So, even though I working on Friday, my system was really resting, and even though I was resting on Monday, my system was actually working.  The rhythm of my life had superimposed itself on the attempt to find rest in my life.  I discovered the need for

Spiritual Rhythm!

For the past five years, our country has been dealing with a financial crisis like no other it has experienced since the Great Depression.  The Harvard economist, Nial Fergason, has called it the "Great Recession."  One of the things that has been so hard for American economists, strike that - world economists, in dealing with this crisis has been the unpredictability of it all.  No one guessed this would happen.  Economists have called it, "A rogue wave" of financial trouble.  "Rogue wave" is a term borrowed from oceanographic study - RV's happen in the ocean when great huge waves come along that nobody can predict or pinpoint on a weather chart or map.  Nobody knows where they come from, how they originate, how they formed.  The hard part about both economic rogue waves and real ones is that they are out of sink with the rhythms of natural weather phenomenon.  When rhythm disappears, so does a sense of balance, equilibrium, wholeness  - SHALOM, SHABBAT.

SHABBAT is a good word to use here.  SHABBAT (the phonetic variant of the Hebrew word for rest), was something that we learn about for the first time in the book of Genesis.  SHABBAT is something that God takes for himself after creating the world for six whole days:  "Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast away.  By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested (SHABBATED) from all his work.  And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested (SHABBATED) from all the work of creating that he had done," (Gen. 2:2-3).  There are several fascinating features to God's SHABBAT.  First, notice that God's SHABBAT is totally disconnected from His need for rest.  God doesn't need to rest, God is all powerful - omnipotent.  However, God does need rhythm.  Even God needs rhythm!  Second, SHABBAT is a holy experience.  The Bible calls the seventh day - holy, because God made it so.  SHABBAT, rhythm then is a holy experience of our lives.  Finally, there is the rhythmic nature of SHABBAT - it must occur every seventh day, on the seventh day, like clockwork for it to work.  The moment that the SHABBAT is invaded, so also is the holiness of that moment.

Are you tired and depleted right now?  Is the pace of your life overtaking the presence of God in your life?  Are you too busy?  The answer for me (to that question) is an indefatigable yes.  However, what I have learned is that much more than the need for rest in my life is the need for re-established rhythm.

All for Now,

Monday, September 24, 2012

Imagining God

One of my favorite things to do in life is to watch and listen to my four year old daughter, Haley, play.  Haley can spend hours enacting dialogue with her stuffed animals, rubber duckies, or whatever toy she is working with at the time.  The dialogue usually goes something like this, "You're a very nice little kitty," "Oh, thank you Mr. Dog, I like you too," "Do you want to go out and play Mr Dog?"  "No, I think I will stay inside here where it's warm,"  "Oh, ok, I'll stay with you..." "Ok, let's stay together," and so on and so on.  What is fascinating to me is the thin line that is created, in Haley's mind, during these imaginary conversations, between reality and fiction.  Haley actually believes there is some dynamic of life in her stuffed animals, above and beyond their cotton filling and fabric shapes.  The actual act of play brings animation to objects which were once only soft pillowy toys.

One of the most important Christian writers of the past 100 years is C.S. Lewis.  Lewis, a one time agnostic on all things religious, would become one of the greatest apologists of his time, writing some of the most significant defenses of the Christian faith; "Mere Christianity", "The Great Divorce," "Surprised by Joy," and "Screwtape Letters," - to name a few.  However, Lewis' greatest and most impressionable contribution to the faith is in his fictional children's stories, "The Narnia Tales."  These symbolic tableau's which include characters like Aslan the lion, Tumnus the fawn, Ent trees and Centaurs (half men, half horses), are a tapestry of imagination.  When once asked what the deeper meaning of these metaphorical sojourns was, Lewis said, "They're just stories, pure and simple."  But Lewis knew what he was doing.  Lewis knew that a very important key to our faith, and certainly from our development at an early age, is the process of:

Imagining God

Essential to our faith is the ability to, as Lewis might say, "close our eyes, and think about a time and a place, a land which is just within grasp of our own, and yet, millions of miles away.  To paint pictures with our thoughts about snowy winters, and white witches and lamp posts on the edges of wooded areas, and castles called Cair Paravel, and deserts like Turkish delight."  Lewis knew that children have a profound ability to suspend reality, and therefore contemplate new realities, through the medium of imagination.  That children have the ability to begin:

Imagining God

Now, right off the bat I must clarify what I am saying here.  When I say that we must "Imagine God," I do not mean that God does not exist in a very real and concrete way.  God does, to be sure.  God is not an imagined being, but a real one.  God exists in the here and now, and the way back then, and the eternal future.  However, the process of thinking about a reality that exists beyond our reality, a heaven that is above our hearts, a kingdom that is beyond our grasp - and yet exists in actuality, is an essential dynamic of a person's faith journey.

Jesus himself tapped into this human ability to imagine heaven, the kingdom of God, through many of his stories and parables.  Some of my favorite imaginations of Jesus are; "The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed."  When Jesus said that the kingdom was LIKE a mustard seed, he wasn't using a literal comparison, but an imaginary one.  He was literally asking his audience, and us, to close our eyes, and to think about a kingdom that is LIKE a seed.  Another image of the kingdom was a coin.  Jesus said, "the kingdom of God is like a little coin that a woman lost, and spent all day, cleaning the house so she could find it."  Again, Jesus is asking his audience, and us, to imagine a place or a state of reality that is LIKE a woman looking for a coin.

Imagining God

Jesus also knew that for some strange reason, as people grow older, they begin to lose their ability to imagine, and therefore sometimes lose their ability to BELIEVE in a reality that is above and beyond the reality of our own time and place.  This is why Jesus said, "to such as these (children) is the kingdom of heaven."

So, have you imagined God today?  What does He look like?  What wooded ravine, covered with snow and lampposts is He waiting for you to meet with him in the middle of?

All For Now,


Monday, September 17, 2012

Ease On Down the Road

When my family moved from California to Colorado, we decided to begin a process of consolidating a lot of the "stuff" of our lives (moves are great at helping a person to see what's important and what's not important).  To this end, our family gave a lot of "stuff" away.  We brought with us only one coat, rather than two.  We gave away pots and pans that hadn't been used, and toys that hadn't been played with.   Before leaving town, a friend of mine gave me the very good advice to; "put all that you own in the middle of the room, look at it, ponder it, if you haven't used any of this stuff for the past year or so, you probably don't need it - get rid of it."  And so, it was in this vein of "downsizing" that we sold one of our cars and came out to Colorado with just one car.

When we arrived in Colorado, my ever so generous father-in-law told me that it would be ok with him if I borrowed his early 1980's, door dented, cassette playing, gas fume smelling, sometimes starting, electric window busted Mercedez Benz - at least until we got another car.  And so, for the past two months or so, I have been driving my father-in-law's old jalopy to work and back every day - and I have to say, I love it.

I love the way the door sort of slams when you close it, rather than the quiet waft of a newer car's doors.  I love the smell of gas and oxygen that marinates your nostrils when driving it (I guess, "I love the smell of gas in the morning...").  I love the sound system that buzzes.  I love steering wheel that takes a workout to turn.  I love the cup holder that folds down out of the door like a tray table in an antique Soviet aircraft.  But most of all, I love how slowly it drives.  My father-in-law's old car maximizes it's driving potential between 40 miles per hour and 60 miles per hour.  Beyond that, the wheels start to fly off their axis.  So, for at least the past two months, I have;

Eased on Down the Road!

Now, why do I tell you all of this?  Because of this.  As much as I have enjoyed my counter-cultural approach to driving an older car, I have found that many people around me are quite upset about it.  The times people have honked at me, for my slowness in changing lanes has been comical.  The number of people who have flipped me off on the free-way for not driving fast enough I cannot count.  The monster trucks who have sped by me while racing their engines and throwing their cigarette butts out the window are too numerous to count.  One guy actually passed me by the other day, while rolling down his window and saying, "Why don't you just retire old man." (I suppose the man thought that because I was driving an older car, that I must be an old man.  Really, this experience has given me new appreciation for the lack of respect that senior citizens in our society receive...)

But here's the thing.  I believe that Jesus calls each of us to a similar "counter-cultural" living experience as I have had while driving an "out of sink" car.  First of all, we are not supposed to buy new stuff all the time, as Christ followers.  We are called to a life of good stewardship of God's resources.  We are not supposed to mind whether our cars, houses, clothes, or lives are "up with" the latest fashions around us.  And most of all, we are not supposed to be living our lives at the same pace as the rest of the world.  We really are called to;

Ease on Down the Road.

And here's the thing.  Other people around us will be bothered by this lifestyle choice of ours.  Other people around us will wonder why we are not buying the latest fashions, focussed on the same things, driving as fast as the rest of the world.  Really, I am not kidding about this at all.  Your choice to metaphorically drive your car, family, house, and life slower than anyone else will really perturb the masses.  It will happen.  Trust me.  But who cares.  For me, it has been a renewed joy of life, to discover once again, the effortless peace that is found in;

Easing on Down the Road!!

All for Now,

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Made By God

One of the central doctrines of the Christian faith is the concept of "Imago Dei" - Made in the Image of God, or more precisely, "made in the likeness of God".  While different faith traditions have taken different positions on this central faith tenant, (eg: Catholicism and Protestantism have dueled it out over the years as to the precise meaning of this doctrine.  Roman Catholics have historically made a distinction between certain supernatural gifts of Adam, in addition to his natural human ones), this doctrine, boiled down to it's most reduced form is the concept that when God created human beings, he "made them (women and men), in God's own image."  God put a little bit of Himself into each human being when he made them.

Two weeks ago, my wife Star and I had the amazing experience of having a brand new baby girl - Sheena Skye Baird.  And in so doing, my understanding of Imago Dei (in addition to many other thousands of things) has changed forever.  You see, I used to always think of Imago Dei from the standpoint of humans.  That is, "wow, it's it so nice that God decided to put a bit of himself into humans when he made them."  And, "God must have thought a lot of His creation to give us God's own features."  Being the father of a new little baby, however, I am beginning to understand this doctrine in a different way.  I am seeing it from the side of the creator - so to speak.

When I look at Sheena's eyes and eyebrows, I say to myself, "Wow, how wonderful (and strange) those are my eyes and eyebrows."  When I look at Sheena's tiny hands and her distinct arches on her feet I say, "Gosh, those are really a lot like my own hands, and those are the same arches I have on my feet."  In short, my daughter looks a lot like me (it's not her fault, of course, but it's the way the DNA seems to have worked out).  And I must say, as egotistical as it may sound, that it is deeply gratifying to see aspects of my own being reflected in someone else.  In a sense, it fills me with joy to see another little being made in my own image - Sheena made from my own IMAGO DEI.  It fact, it may be one of the greatest joys I have ever felt to see the congruity between my own life and the life of another tiny little human being.

So, this is what I wonder.  Does God take a similar degree of joy from seeing congruity between Himself and His creation?  Does God take a similar deep gratification in the idea that the beings that He created, and continues to create, are likenesses of Himself?  Does God look down from the proverbial heavens and say, "Wow, those are my hands, and those are my feet" on those little creatures down there.  More to the point (since we do not believe God still exhibits anthropomorphic features), does God look down from the heavens and say, "Incredible, that person down there has the same heart for poor people, sick people, uneducated people, lost people as I do."  "Fantastic, that being down there has the same generosity I do when it comes to giving the things of life away."  Does it give God joy to see His own image reflected in humanity?

And is the reverse of this possible as well?  Does God look down from the heavens sometimes and say,  "Gosh, look at those beings down there who's hearts do not look like mine at all.  How disappointing."  Does God cast His gaze upon humanity sometimes and say,  "Wow, look at those humans down there who's minds do not look at all like my mind.  Why are they filling their minds with such unGodly ideas?"  And does this disparity between humanity and God grieve God's heart to the point of breaking?  Does the distance that we create between our core selves and God's core self cause God to feel deeply sad about the whole endeavor of creation itself?

And did God, in human form, come down from the heavens to become an Image of Himself, and image of us, and live with us, and die like us, and come back to life again for us, to retrieve that part of Himself which was forever lost because of things that we, his human creation have done to separate ourselves from the love of God?

Of course he did!

All For Now,

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

This Summer of our Discontent

When is it appropriate to paraphrase a Shakespeare quote to describe an entire quarter of a year (eg: "Now is the winter of our discontent / Made glorious summer by this sun [or son] of York," . Richard III")?  That's an easy one to answer.  It's when the summer that you are occupying is completely filled with discontenting events.  When the discontents of a time period outweigh the contents of a time period.  And this summer in Colorado Springs (the summer of 2012) simply takes the cake.  In the six weeks since Star and I moved here, this poor state and the community we live in has experienced;

*  A massive wildfire in which nearly 400 homes were completely destroyed, and thousands of lives
    were displaced (the Waldo Canyon fires)
*  The death of a much beloved pastor in our church (Cliff Anderson)
*  The exit and goodbye of the former Senior Pastor of our church (Jim Singleton)
*  The largest mass shooting in US history happening a little over an hour from here (Aurora)
*  The death of one of our church's staff member's baby, a child still-born to this world
*  And to top it off...flash floods and mud slides that hit, and I mean hit, Colorado Springs last night

This short list is enough to cause even the most frigid Presbyterian to wonder weather there isn't some apocalyptic connection to these events.  What do these stones mean?  Why, in such a brief period of time, have we experienced such upset and tragedy?  Should we all prepare for the second coming, or is this just an extremely long period of "bad luck"?  Are we, like the biblical figure Job, somehow being tested by a preternatural force, or is this just our own merry-go-round and spate of hardships and cruelties?  And so, like the character Gandalf, from J.R. Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings" we stare into the fire, and pull at our beards and suck on our professor's pipes, and wonder what in the world is going on...

Of course, psychologists would tell us that what we are experiencing is a phenomenon known as "situational justification."  Situational justification is the fifty-cent term for our tendency as humans to see a pattern of behavior or action, and then ascribe meaning or significance to it.  It's the tendency we experience when we buy a white automobile and then we subsequently notice everyone else's white automobile.  It's what happens to us when a loved one dies, and we are in pain, and then we notice everyone else's pain around us.  So, one tragedy befalls us, the Waldo Canyon fires, and we approach all of life with a tragedy pair of glasses - crisis lenses which look for other tragedies.  Is this what is happening to us?  Maybe, but I'm not totally convinced.

One of the biggest challenges of being a Christ follower is having the burden of not ever knowing "why" life's circumstances befall us.  As the apostle Paul reminds us in the book of Corinthians, "For now we see but a poor reflection, as in a mirror ('we see through a glass dimly' in the King James); then we shall see face to face.  Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known" (1 Cor. 13:12).  The Greek here is, as always, better.  The Greek word for "glass dimly" is AINIGMATI. AINIGMATI is where we get our word for ENIGMA.  An ENIGMA is that which eludes us.  It is a mystery which we don't know the answer to.  AINIGMATI is also connected to the word, riddle.  Paul is saying the life is a riddle.  Life is an unanswerable puzzle.  But, Paul here is doing more than simply describing the state of our lives, as a question mark, but he is giving us direction.  He is letting us know that we will never "know these things fully". We will never know "why" events such as these happen to us.  Paul might have added the postscript, "you will never know fully, so don't even try to know."

However, being a Christ follower does provide the answers to many of the other questions in life.  For example, we know:

*  "Who" is in charge of all these things - YAHWEH, The Lord God who is One
*  "How" we will get through them - step by step, following God's love and power
*  "What" the purpose of our lives is - to love God with all of our heart and soul and mind and strength
*  "Where" can we access God's power - in loving others, in prayer, in reading scripture

But still, even after this, I would yet like to know why the summer of 2012 has been the way it has for us.  For now, I will have to satiate my curiosity by trusting in God, and reading more Shakespeare.  Because sometimes, "A rose by any other name, would smell as sweet" (Romeo and Juliet)

All For Now,

Monday, July 23, 2012


This past week, our city, state and nation experienced one of the worst examples of domestic terrorism to happen in our country - the worst example of mass shooting -  in US history.  The events which happened on Thursday night, (7/26 - thankfully not a date which will become a memory piece, unlike, for example 9/11) in Aurora, Colorado will never be erased from our thoughts or minds.

Like all pastors who had to speak into this crisis, on Sunday morning, I struggled on the Thursday night before with what to say to people.  Do, I say that "bad things just happen, and we must learn to live with them?"  "No," I thought to myself, that's too glib.  Do I say that we must, "love the victims with a special intentionality?"  "Yes," I thought to myself, but that's not enough.  So, I decided to focus on the subject of "Evil" itself, and of the "Evil One" the one who plants seeds of division and destruction in the minds of vulnerable and broken people.  "But, even that" I told myself, tends to take too much responsibility away from the perpetrator of the event.  Wasn't he (and his name will remain a noticeable vacancy from this blogpost) a culpable, responsible participant in this terrible act of violence?

Most of all I decided not to talk about the topic of Forgiveness.  As I watched the evening news on Sunday, I saw that several churches in and around Aurora chose to focus on the topic of forgiveness - forgiving the perpetrator, forgiving his terrible act, asking people to begin to forgive the act itself.  When I saw these newscasts, I definitely respected the churches that decided to talk about forgiveness on this day, but at the same time I felt that talking about forgiveness in this setting, and on the quick heels of such a terrible disaster, was, perhaps another example of "missing the mark."

Let me insert here a strong proviso.  I definitely believe in forgiveness!!  I believe that forgiveness is at the center of the Christ following faith.  I believe that Jesus' strong endearment to forgive those who do wrong things to us, "forgive them 7 X 77" is at the heart of the gospel.  I believe that Jesus was correct when he said, "if you go to the temple and you have not forgiven your neighbor, you cannot worship God fully."  Forgiveness is a must.  Forgiveness is at the center of our faith.  Forgiveness is a mandatory dynamic of the Christ following experience.

However, I have also come to learn, in my 12 years of ministry, that forgiveness is not ever as simple as a single act of contrition.  Forgiveness is not the waving of a wand over something to make it so.  Forgiveness is not an act of FIAT that can be bequeathed, like a sentence on a criminal.  Forgiveness is a process.  While forgiveness might be an instant absolute on the part of God, it is always an unfolding event for humans.  Forgiveness is almost always a long journey that involves so many important things.

Dr. David Augsburger, one of my favorite all time professors at Fuller Theological Seminary talked in a class I took from him, about the steps involved in a true act of forgiveness.  These include:

*  Coming together by both parties in an open, honest and forthright communication about the act of wrongdoing which has occurred.
*  A mutual recognition of wrongdoing
*  A continued dialog about the wrongdoing
*  Time and a sense of space between the act of wrongdoing itself and the process of forgiveness.
*  A form of compensation or restitution, or restorative justice on the part of both parties

Augsburger once said to our class of D.Min students something I will not soon forget.  He said, "Sometimes the worst thing a pastor can do on a Sunday morning is to stand before his/her parishioners and say, 'We JUST need to forgive those who have done wrong to us."  Augsburger said, "There is just no JUST about it.  Forgiveness is a long process of restitution and justice and mercy and grace."

But we should pray for the process of forgiveness, and we should recognize that all things are possible in Christ - even forgiving despicable acts that are on their own face - completely unforgivable!

All For Now,

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

But I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For...

I used to love to fly fish, back when I lived in Boise, Idaho.  The truth is, what I really loved was the experience of standing in the middle of a river.  I would love to go out, in the middle of the week sometime, when the temperatures were just beginning to soar into the mid-90's, and I would step from a dry dusty bank, into a cool gurgling brook.  And there I would stand, right in the middle.  On the other side of the river was another shore, and yet I didn't really feel I wanted to totally cross.  The other bank was too far, too hard for me to cross into.  Behind me was the shore I had just come from.  Before stepping into the river, I was usually a bit stressed out from school, tired from a long day, burdened by whatever was on my mind.  So, I didn't want to go back, because that would mean the fishing trip would be over, and I would be returning to where I had come from.  But there I was in the middle of the river.  In those days it was almost as if I had;

One Foot in the Wilderness, the Other in the Promised Land.

One of my favorite songs of all time is the rock ballad, by U2, "But I still haven't found what I'm looking for."  The song lyrics reflect mournfully about the strange juxtaposition in this life between having all of the things that we think we want (or ever wanted), and somehow feeling slightly unfulfilled.  The lyrics go; I have climbed highest mountain, I have run through the fields, Only to be with you, Only to be with you, I have run, I have crawled, I have scaled these city walls, These city walls, Only to be with you, But I still haven't found what I'm looking for, But I still haven't found what I'm looking for.  In these lyrics, the singer Bono seems to be recognizing the challenge in this life, of never really getting to the place where you want to be, deep down into your heart.  It is as if Bono is reflecting on the challenge of having,

One Foot in the Wilderness, the Other in the Promised Land.

There are many holidays which I love.  You can't beat the fourth of July for a family BBQ.  Thanksgiving is wonderful when you are in a place that is snowy and cold.  Easter is so pregnant with freshness and newness.  However, truth be told, my favorite holiday in the year is the Christian season of Advent.  Advent are the five weeks which proceed Christmas.  Advent comes from the latin word, Adventus, which means, "to wait for."  The main concept of advent is that we are all waiting for the savior to come into the world, the baby Jesus.  The reason I love advent is because it is not quite Christmas, and it is not Thanksgiving either.  It is somewhere in-between.  Advent is a time where we have;

One Foot in the Wilderness, the Other in the Promised Land.

During the long war years of World War II, in Great Britain, the Medieval English Oxford Don and Professor (and would be theologian)  C.S. Lewis gave great talks to huge crowds about Christianity.  One of C.S. Lewis' main talks, and one which was made into a great movie was, "Shadowlands."  C.S. Lewis' talk on Shadowlands is an explanation of Plato's cave, the shadows which were reflected on the wall of our lives.  Plato was talking about the ineffable existence of life.  C.S. Lewis said, "We live in the Shadowlands.  Over the brow of a hill, around the bend in the road, what we seek after, eludes us.  We have not yet attained it yet."  C.S. Lewis seemed to be referring to the fact that all of us have;

One Foot in the Wilderness, the Other in the Promised Land.

This coming week, I will be preaching on the crossing of the Jordan River by the Israelites.  For 440 years, the Israelites had had hopes and dreams about crossing into the promised land.  And now they were about to do it.  The Lord told the Israelite priests to go before the people and carry the ark of the covenant with them.  As the priests crossed into the river, the Bible tells us that it instantly dried up, by some great miracle, and the people walked on dry ground.  When the priests reached the middle of the river, we are told, that they stopped, they lifted up the ark above their heads.  And then they praised God.  Moments later, they would build an altar in the middle of the river.  And there they worshipped God.  In that moment, the Israelites knew what it was to have;

One Foot in the Wilderness, the Other in the Promised Land

And so do we.  The balance of these two places in our lives is what it means to be human, and what it means to be a Christ follower.  We are not in the wilderness anymore, and we are not in the promised land yet either.

All For Now,