Friday, January 31, 2014

In the Space of a Legend

I have written before about the trauma of having my home office broken into by an intruder.  I have never written, however, about the joy of being in the same office, and soaking up the same creative embers as a living legend.  My current home office, the room behind our house, was once the work space of a living legend.

For 25 years before me, one of the greatest climbers in the history of the United States, worked in the same office space that I now occupy.  For 25 years before me, one of the greatest leaders in developing Colorado trails and national spaces for public use toiled.  For 25 years before me, one of the most caring people to work with young people who were need and crisis, through Outward bound international counseled young people.  For 25 years before me, one of the strongest voices for environmental activism in Colorado Springs focussed his thoughts on the development of the Rocky Mountain Field Institute.

On Monday afternoon, in Boulder Colorado, at the Boulder Rock Club, that climber, builder and counselor died of unknown causes.   Mark Hesse died at the age of 63.

I only met Mark once, but I could tell instantly that I was in the presence of a man who had done great things in this life.  When I reached out to shake his hand, I noticed that several of the fingers on his right hand were missing.  Since I knew that he was a major climber, I assumed that he had lost those fingers on the ascents he had made.  Little did I know then what a famous climber Mark actually was.  In 1999, Mark climbed Monte Fitz Roy, a 3,405 foot rock which juts out of the Patagonian mountain range and ice field.  Mark made several first ascents around the world - often in a solo capacity.  In the 1970's and 1980's Mark climbed mountains from ranges in Canada to the America Rockies, southern Utah.  Mark climbed Guillamuet in Peru.  Mark soloed the south face on a first ascent of Denali.  Mark climbed the 22,241 foot Kangkya on a first ascent in Nepal.  Mark was a legend.  (The above picture is Mark practicing on the south face of Garden of the Gods in the 1980's).

What has been strange to me is how this death, of my geographic fore bearer,  has somehow affected me over these past few days.  When you met Mark, you had the sense that you had known him for a while.  Our Reformed theology is steeped in the notion of the "God of our fathers" and the "generation to generational" aspect of life.  Jung talked about a collective unconscious - that collective soul of a community which exists as a result of the people who live in it, as much as the exact historical makeup of any particular unit of it.  The house that we live in, their old house, just has a good spirit in it.  I'm not saying there is anything truly spiritual about it, but it just has what the Germans would call a good, "Geschtalt" - a good feeling.  The Hesse's before us just seemed like good people.

And what to say about a mountain climber that died long before his time?  Well, God loves mountains. Most of the sightings (or hearings) of God in the Bible occur on mountains.  God spoke to Moses in a burning bush and gave him the ten commandments on on Mount Sinai.  God showed Moses the promised land from Mount Nebo.  Jesus taught his greatest sermon on a Mount (we don't know which one).  Jesus was transfigured into the likeness of God on Mount Tabor.  God spoke to king David and gave him the song, "I lift my eyes to the hills - where does my help come from?  It comes from the Lord"(Psalm 121).  God told David, "The mountains shall bring peace to the people, and the little hills, by righteousness" (Psalm 72).  Jesus said, "If you have the faith of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, 'Move to that place over there', and it will go!  Nothing will be impossible for you." (Matthew 17:20).

Mark didn't move mountains, but he loved to climb them.  And so, in a way, he did move them.  Mark loved what God loves - and that, as they say, is at least half the battle!

All For Now,

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Strength vs. Power

As this weekend's Superbowl picks up steam, the international football contest this year between the Denver Broncos and the Seattle Seahawks, I thought I would weigh in this week with a few words about the difference between:

Strength and Power.  

Before I begin, and so that no-one thinks I am being a party-pooper by raining on the Broncos or their chances of winning the Superbowl, I should say that I am a big football fan.  I have lots of orange clothes in my closet.  Ever since I grew up in Boise, Idaho and I began cheering for the Boise State Broncos, I have been a sucker for teams dawning orange and blue and having stallions as their mascot.  And since I have the chance, let me include a fight song that our own church choir, "Big Blue" (renamed "Big Orange and Blue" for the game) recently recorded.

This song was featured on our local television station last night KOAA as an example of a church weighing in on athletics.  I loved the song.  I loved the news-coverage.  So, I'm all for fun competitions of athletic prowess.

However, I have been thinking that there is a big difference between:

Strength and Power

Strength is almost always visceral, it is skin-deep, it is muscular, it is athletic, and it involves great bursts of brute force and physical exertion.  Strength helps us to lift a weight higher, move a ball further, shoot a basket better, throw a javelin further, and ski a slope faster.  On the field of battle, or in a skirmish, strength is what helps a soldier or a combatant to vanquish their foes.  Strength is the stuff of this world.  Strength is what the Broncos must tap into if they are to win the game this weekend.

Power, on the other hand, comes from an inner source.  Power derives from a higher source.  Power is spiritual, and calls upon forces within us that are deeper than muscle and stronger than bone.  Power, when it is properly focussed and healthfully engaged, comes not from ourselves, but from God.  We become the receptacles of power when it is properly channeled.  We become the vessels of something larger than ourselves when power is real.

This past week, I was deeply moved by a picture I saw in the New York Times that involved Orthodox priests standing in the middle of a battle field.  The scene is between protesters on one side, and a police barricade on the other (I have included the picture in this they say, a picture says a thousand words).  The details of this scene are not that important, but somewhat interesting.  At 10:30 PM on Friday night in downtown Kiev, Ukraine, just next to the soccer stadium, a conflagration broke out between a thousand or so protestors and an equal number of police forces.  Over the course of the past few months, protestors there have taken police officers hostage, and police officers have killed protestors.  The national scene is literally a powder keg waiting to blow up.  In short, it is: 

Strength vs. Strength.

In the midst of all of this muscular force, real power stepped forward.  Orthodox priests from a neighboring church heard the conflict begin to erupt, and instead of hiding under their desks, or fleeing to the basement of the church, they did something remarkable.  They put on their worship frocks, picked up their crosses and headed to the center of the scene of the conflict.  There they stood, in between the police officers and protestors.  Forces on both sides jeered at the priests and told them to move so that they could continue with their bloodletting.  No go.  The priests wouldn't move.  They had:

Real Power!

The priests genuflected (the sign of the cross) to each side.  The priests prayed.  May each of us find the same power in our lives, not from ourselves but from the higher source of God in us.

All For Now,

Monday, January 20, 2014


This past week as I was leading my weekly Bible study at Seeds Community Cafe (10:30AM on Wednesdays, Seeds Community, 109 East Pike's Peak Avenue), I had this revelation about Jesus' ministry.  But first, I should say more about my Seeds Bible Study.  Every week at 10:30, around 40-50 people join me in a tiny little restaurant in downtown Colorado Springs.  I stand in the middle of the restaurant, people all sit around me.  Half of the people who come are homeless, or live very near the poverty line, the other half who come are, like me, middle and upper-middle income professionals.  The cafe, founded by chef Lynn Harwell, makes very good, healthy food at a reasonable cost.  All who can pay for  their meals are encouraged to do so.  Those who can't pay are offered an opportunity to volunteer in the kitchen (washing dishes or whatever).  The Bible study is a beautiful mix of high and low, sophisticated and simple, cultured and not so cultured, seekers and searchers of Jesus Christ and fully devoted followers.  The Bible study lasts just 30-40 minutes, followed by a quick prayer, and then everyone is invited to stay for lunch, or head out.  All are welcome.

Now here is my big idea.  Today, if you want to see a big name religious person offer a message, you usually have to buy a ticket to see them.  If you want to see Joyce Meyers, you have to sign up for her conferences (and I'm not dissing Joyce, I like her a lot).  If you want to see Andy Stanley, or Craig Groetchel, the best way is to sign up for a Catalyst Conference (I have seen them both, and love them).  If you want to see Joel Ostein, you have to at least own a TV, or attend one of their weekend worship services in Houston.  But here's the question.  If you wanted to see Jesus teach and preach in the year 31 AD, what did you have to do?

You had to go find Jesus somewhere in the community.  He was usually hanging out in places like Seeds Community Cafe.  He was in the poor barrios of the town.  Jesus would teach around the lake of Galilee, the modern day equivalent to our shipping yards, or rail way stations.  The lake shore was where the working people all gathered.  Jesus almost always offered his theological wisdom in the most abject places and the most questionable circumstances.  And so, as a result, many many people never went out to see him.  It required planning and inquiry to locate Jesus and then to go and listen to him.  It required courage and persistence to see the Savior speak.  A person had to be willing to leave their easy life and head into the; "poorer quarters where the ragged people go" (to quote Simon and Garfunkel).

I can almost imagine conversations occurring in the first century between upper class married couples, living in Jerusalem, who were planning their day.  "What does your day look like, Honey?"  "Well, I'm going to go to the market and pick up some fresh fish, and then I thought I'd drop in and see this teacher everyone is talking about called YESHUA."  "Oh  no, you're not going in for that sort of thing are you?"  "Well, I'd just like to see him, just once."  "Where is he teaching?"  "I hear he will be down in the leper colony today."  "Oh no, not the leper colony!  I absolutely forbid you to go down there!! It's just not safe.  I'm sorry honey, the answer is no.  Why don't you go hear rabbi Gamalil on the other side of town, at least he's teaching in a safer place."  "Ok, you're probably right."

So, here's my question to you.  If Jesus were alive today, he would no doubt be teaching somewhere like Seeds, somewhere like the Springs Rescue Mission, somewhere like Marion Soup Kitchen, somewhere like Ecumenical Social Ministries, somewhere like the old train station in the bad part of town, somewhere like the psyche ward of the local hospital.  If he was there teaching...

Would you go and see him?

All For Now,

Monday, January 13, 2014

Lean Forward, Plan Ahead, and Commit

So, this past Thursday, with a weekend off preaching (I write on Thursdays), the family and I all packed up the car to have a day of skiing (This is not a picture of me skiing, I should hasten to add).  If you live in Colorado you know that the clouds dumped about 6 inches of fresh powder on the mountains near where we live.  It was into the powder that we were heading.  It was into the powder that we were planning to ski.

Now, it has been a few years since I have skied in fresh, deep powder.  I grew up in Salt Lake City, and when we would ski there, a place that is legendary for it's powder skiing, we would often have bunji chords connected to our skis in case our skis became disconnected from our bindings, and forever lost under the snow.  It had been awhile since I skied in such conditions.  If you have never skied in powder, it is like wading through a Louisiana swamp that comes up to your waste.  Skiing in powder is like skiing in a snowstorm, that is just around you (as the picture shows).  It is like slogging through mud or quicksand.  The force of the snow against your legs slows you down.  The blast of snow in your face, makes you wish you hand wind-shield wipers on your goggles.  It's fun, but it's a challenge.

There are three things that I remember from my Utah ski days that are important to remember when skiing in powder.  They are:

Lean Forward, Plan Ahead, and Commit

The tendency is to want to lean back when doing this kind of skiing, but that actually can make your skiis rise, and pull you out of the powder, and then crash.  Even though you are uncertain about how deep the powder may be which you are coming up upon, you must lean forward.  You can't make quick turn decisions when skiing in snow up to your waist either.  You have to be thinking a lot further ahead.  And most important, you must commit to the decisions you make on your ski route.  The worst thing can be to get nervous, and then want to turn a different direction.  When your skiis are six inches under snow, a hasty turn can mean an injured knee or ankle.

You see where I am going with this.  This same formula:

Lean Forward, Plan Ahead, and Commit

is a good one for leadership and life as well.  Leaning Forward can be equated to having faith.  We must have faith in God, and lean into the future, whatever that may be.  Paul reminds us of this in his incredible book to the Philippian church, "Forgetting what is behind, and straining forward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus." (Phil. 3:14).  You can always tell Christ followers who are leaning forward, as opposed to those who are leaning backward.  Those who lean forward are more hopeful, positive, there is an excitement in their eye about what the future will bring.  Those who lean backward are often marked by regret, negativity, guilt, second guessing.

Planning ahead and committing to our decisions speak for themselves.  As a pastor, I am always planning way ahead.  For example, a friend gave me an idea for how to light candles on Christmas Eve next year, a whole year away.  I have the concept for my Easter message already, honing it in my mind.  A great painter once told me that painting a beautiful picture is not about perfect strokes of the brush, it is about continual refinement.  The further ahead we plan, the better the end product is.

Well, that's it.  A simple blogpost, but a deep (6 inch, powder-deep) bit of advice,

All For Now,

Monday, January 6, 2014

Create A Connection

About a month ago, my daughter Haley said to me on the drive to school in the morning (driving my 5 year old to school every day has been the best 10 minutes of bonding we have had in our father/daughter relationship...I highly recommend it); she said, "Daddy, I'm sad."  I said, "Why honey?"  She said, "Because I have no BFFs.  Nobody wants to be my Best Friend Forever."  I paused and filled my overly-protective parental lungs with a 5 second processing moment of a deep breath of air.  Nobody wants to be best friends with my daughter, the perfect angel of goodness that I know her to be, I thought?  I gave a quick explanation, "Well, Best Friends Forever is silly anyway, Haley.  For one thing it's silly to have a best friend.  We all just have different kinds of friends, not best friends.  And then, the concept of Forever is a misnomer (I was losing her with the word misnomer...) your school mates probably won't even be friends with each other for one more week, let alone forever."  Haley was unimpressed with my answer.  And so, I decided, there was really only one thing to do.  I was going to go to the school play ground and help my daughter to:

Create A Connection

I went up to a girl that Haley wanted to be friends with, and said, "Wow, that is an awesome hair clip you have, Haley do you see her hair clip?  It's just like yours.  And wow, your jacket is really awesome too, it's the same jacket color as yours Haley."  Instantly, from out of nowhere, by the wave of a wand and the work of the Holy Spirit, there was a friendship connection (perhaps not forever, but at least until recess that day), between the two girls.  It was as if these two girls wanted to be friends, but they didn't have the social skills, the know-how, the courage, to create a friendship. To:

Create A Connection

The thought occurred to me that a healthy church also helps to create connections between people.  In a similar way to my daughter's kindergarten experience, many people come to church to look for God, meaning and significance, and looking for the chance to:

Create A Connection.

They don't know how to Create a Connection.  They don't have the existing relationship, they don't know anybody, they don't have the courage.  And so, no connection is made.  Very often at church I will meet someone who is standing in line to say hello to me, and I will find out that they are an attorney, or a book editor, or a retired General, and I will then say, "Hey John, you were in the armed forces, do you know Peter over here is also a retired General?"  And instantly, there is a connection that is made.  Lyle Schaller tells us that if the average new visitor to a church doesn't make three social connections in the first month that they are in attendance, they won't return.  I actually think it is possible to help people to make three connections in the first day that they are in attendance at church.

One of the great misunderstandings about fostering a culture of growth in a church is that it is all about advertising, or it is about an evangelical heart, or it is about an outreach focussed ministry.  To be sure, these things are all important.  But the most important thing for church growth, I have found, is creating a culture where natural connections between people and people, and people and God can take place.

Several years ago, Bill Hybels wrote a book called, Just Walk Across the Room.  It was a good book written about the core concept of the need to lose our inhibitions and just go over to people we don't know, and strike up a conversation.  If I were to write a sequel to Bill's book, it might be, Just Create A Connection.  Creating a connection between people takes the focus off of yourself, as the primary relationship, and helps to direct the primary relationship onto others.

Jesus must have been good at creating connections.  Very often after Jesus heals someone, he will tell that person to go to the temple and wash.  We usually associate that errand to the temple to be about a temple ritual of purification.  The problem is that Jesus was never much into purification rituals, or rituals of any kind.  Why then, did Jesus send these people to the temple?  It's possible, that Jesus knew that a physical healing was only part of a person's overall healing process, and that Creating A Connection between an outcast person and the inner society was true healing.  Jesus sent people to the temple to wash in order, I think, to:

Create A Connection

Give it a try sometime today.  Maybe you will find that "Matchmaking" is not just a song from the musical Fiddler on the Roof, but rather an important aspect of our overall Christian walk with one another.  And it's fun!

Oh, and one more thing.  I have absolutely no idea how you would create a connection between a deep sea diver and a killer whale....(picture at top of post:-))  I just liked the picture.

All For Now,