Monday, June 30, 2014

Can God Use Your "B" Game?

This morning marks the first official day in my new call setting in Camarillo, California.  In the nomenclature of the wonderful military culture that I just moved from in Colorado Springs, this is my first day in Camarillo of - "boots on the ground".  The game clock of the first minute of the first quarter of my ministry has just started.  The gates have opened on the horse race track.  The marathon runners have taken their marks and the starting gun has gone off.  And... I have a small confession to make.

I don't know if I am totally ready for all of this.  I don't really feel like I am exactly starting my first day in my best pastoral form.  I don't feel like I am starting on day one with full energy, full focus, full strength, full ability.  I wonder of I am like "California Chrome" who got kicked in the shins at the start of the Bellmont Classic horse race, and is about to come in fourth place (like this image above).  In short, I feel like I am starting the game here not with my "A" game, but with my "B" game.  Let me explain a bit further...

The past three months of our family's life has been a completely fatiguing experience.  Since we left Colorado Springs at the beginning of April, we have moved no less than 20 times (hotels, friends homes, family homes, retirement homes, even a monastery).  When joking about it, Star and have thought of calling this summer; "Our Gypsie Family Adventure of Fun."  In the midst of our moves we have put our house on the market, driven two cars across the country, moved most of our family possessions to Camarillo, enrolled our daughter Haley in several "Art Camps", Star has interviewed for several jobs, I have taken a Doctoral class at Fuller, and I have spoken in several churches.  And at the end of it all, I don't feel like I am running on "fresh legs" (to carry the sports metaphor further) on the first day of the race.      

To illustrate the point further, I was recently speaking at a Presbyterian pastor's retirement home in Pasadena.  I was offering a message on pastoral leadership.  To illustrate a particular point, I began to talk about Fidel Castro (for whatever reason), and I was explaining his relationship to several pastors in America.  Somewhere in the middle of the talk, my mind went blank.  I said, "Fidel Castro comes from the country of……" and my mind was blank.  Several unsettling and uncomfortable seconds passed.  "Fidel Castro comes from the country of…"  "Fidel Castro comes from the country of…."  Finally, a 94 year old woman in the front row raised her hand and said, "CUBA, Fidel comes from Cuba!"  "Yes, I said, thank you, Cuba."  Now, when a 94 year old woman finishes your sentence in the middle of a talk in a retirement home, you have to come to terms with a basic fact; You may not be playing your "A" game.

And so my question for the morning is…

Can God Use My "B" Game?

Can God Use Your "B" Game?

Does God need us to be functioning at 100% of our ability level in order to use me/us effectively in ministry?  Can God take what we have, what we are able to offer, at any given moment in our lives, and make something good, something beautiful, something useful, something transformative out of it.

Can God Use Your "B" Game?

This is a very important question for all humans, since none of us is perfect.  None of us can really be fully "all there" at any given moment.  We must come to terms with the fact that we won't always be able to play our "A" game.  I recently spoke with a retired pastor who told me, "Graham, I don't preach any more because I am just not as sharp as I used to be, and I'd rather not preach at all, than to preach less than perfectly."  A triathlete I know told me, "When I was just ten years younger, I was able to run much faster, I'm thinking of quitting races."  A friend I know has recently been through a major stroke.  He said to me, "It sometimes takes me hours to come up with thoughts that I was able to cultivate in minutes.  Sometimes I feel like quitting."  And so, I ask the question again;

Can God Use Your "B" Game?

One of my favorite texts in the Bible is the letter that Paul writes to the church in Corinth.  In the midst of Paul's ministry, he must have been dealing with similar struggles to the ones I have described above. Paul must have felt that he was playing with his "B" game.  Maybe he wasn't as able to access memorized Biblical texts as in the days of his youth.  Maybe it was his "thorn in his side".  Maybe he was just completely exhausted from his many years of ministry (being beaten, stoned, jailed, put in military stockades, having multiple ship-wrecks).

Into this miasma of deficiency, Paul wrote; "To keep from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly good revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.  Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.  But he said to me, My Grace Is Sufficient For You, For my Power is Made Perfect in Weakness.  Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me." (1 Cor. 12:7-10).

What God is saying through Paul, I believe, is that God CAN USE OUR "B" GAME.  More than this, God prefers it when we recognize our humanness, our shortcomings, our failings, our inabilities, our "B" game.  God loves it when we recognize these "weaknesses" and we give them to God.  It is only when we do this, then that God can fully use us.  God makes our "B" game into an "A" game by the power of the cross.

So, to answer the question for the morning….

Can God Use Our "B" Game?

YES!  And it would seem, that He prefers our "B" game.

So, stay tuned for my blogpost next week which will be written about President Barak Obama who is the President of….the President of…the President of…

Oh, it will come to me:-)

All For Now,

Monday, June 23, 2014

The Impact of Focus

This coming Thursday (June 26, 2014), I will be in Colorado Springs to speak at Focus on the Family's weekly staff chapel gathering.  Anyone and everybody is welcome to attend.  Chapel is from 1:30-2:30.    I will speak for about 20 minutes in the middle of that worship experience.

One of the real highlights of my ministry in Colorado Springs was connecting with and learning about the depth and the breadth of the impact of Focus on the Family.  I have always been struck by is the varying opinions that people have of Focus on the Family, throughout the country.  When I ask random people about their impressions of Focus they often will say something like, "Oh that's the group that did family development videos in the 1990's".  Or, "Oh, aren't they the religious group that gets involved in political issues?"  Or, "They are the conservative Christian organization that are against anyone having any fun." Or, "Oh they are the group that advocate spanking children."  As I said, the opinions are varied and diverse.

While in Colorado Springs, I had the privilege of meeting Focus on the Family's founder James Dobson.  While James (or "Jim" as he likes to be called by his friends) is no longer officially connected to Focus on the Family, his name will always have some association with the organization he founded.  In my experiences, Jim can best be described as a gentleman.  Contrary to the image that many have of Jim outside of CS, as being "hard-nosed" and "aggressive" - he really is quite, "gentle".  When I asked Jim his best advice about ministry, and how he does interviews for talk shows (like Hannity or Huckabee), he said; "I always prepare every word that I am going to say, and I prepare much more information than I need.  If I am interviewed for 5 minutes, I prepare one hour of interview material.  And I always have a 'zinger' for them.  Interviewers are always looking for a 'zinger' in every interview."

I also had the privilege of becoming a personal friend to Focus on the Family's new president Jim Daly.  One of my favorite qualities of Jim Daly is that he is deeply rooted in his own convictions about life and God and the role of the church, and at the same time he is entirely engaging with the world around him.  Unlike many Christian conservatives, Jim bends over backward to engage people that he has fundamental disagreements with.  Jim frequently tells me that he called this "progressive leader" or that "liberal leaning politician" on the phone and then just listens.  Jim told me, "I am just amazed at how many people there are in the world that totally reject God or totally reject the church, but that is only because the church had rejected them a long, long time before."

Jim told me about one man who is in a life-long same sex relationship with his partner.  Jim asked this man, "When did you feel the most hurt or injured by the church?"  The man thought for a moment and then said; "that's an easy one."  "When I was just 12, I decided that I was gay.  I told my father, knowing that my father would not be happy about it.  My father told me that I needed to come before the church elder board and confess.  I agreed to do so.  My father was on the church elder board at the time.  After hearing about my own personal sexual identity story, my father said, 'On behalf of the church elder board, we are kicking you out of the church.  You are no longer welcome here.  Please never come back.  You are banned from this church.'  After that traumatizing experience I realized that I would never again have anything to do with any Christian church."  Jim told me how he just listened to the man and said, "I am so sorry that that happened to you.  That is not ok.  That is not what Christ would do.  I ask your forgiveness."  The man said to Jim, "You are the only person who has ever said that to me before.  Thank you."  Jim Daly acts as a kind of soft-hearted, loving, ombudsman and bridge-builder between people of the faith and people who have been hurt by the church.

This Thursday, I will be speaking on the two year anniversary of the Waldo Canyon Fire disaster in Colorado Springs.  Two years ago, to the day this Thursday, fires swept through Colorado Springs and consumed and destroyed over 300 homes.   The title of my message will be, "How God Provides After The Storms Have Passed."

Please pray for me as I give this important talk.  And pray for Focus on the Family

All For Now,

Monday, June 16, 2014

Infinity + 1

Just the other day my daughter Haley turned six.  About a day before her sixth birthday party she asked me a profound question.  "Daddy…what's the biggest number in world?"  Did I mention that Haley got a top grade in math this year?  Being more of a theologian than a math student I did my best to answer.  I said, "Well, honey, there are a lot of big numbers.  There is one million, that's big.  There is one billion, that's bigger.  And there is one trillion, that's really the biggest number."  I thought to myself that one trillion might be the biggest number she was able to conceive of as a 6 year old.  Then she asked, "But daddy, how can those numbers be the biggest?  Why can't you just add 1 to that number and it will be bigger."  "That's true," I said.  Felling that I needed to assert my supremacy in numbers as someone who is 36 years old than Haley, and who is now working on my fourth degree, I said, "Actually, infinity is probably the largest number out there.  There is nothing larger than infinity."  To this, Haley had a stunning riposte; "Well what about….

Infinity + 1

I was stumped.  Stumped at the age of 42 by a 6 year old.  And the question has boggled my mind ever since.  Would it be possible for there to be an Infinity + 1?  Infinity is a number that goes on indefinitely, it is perpetual, it never ends, it goes on for…infinity (ad infinitum).  But what is Infinity + 1?  Naturally my mind goes to theological more theological angles than mathematical ones.

Infinity + 1

As I have contemplated this question for the last week or so, Infinity + 1, might be the best definition of heaven I have heard in a long time.  Let's try to break it down a little more:

We have a pretty good idea from almost everything the Bible writes, that time in and of itself means nothing to God.  God is the God of CHRONOS (the Greek word for time in general) and CHAIROS (the Greek word for "moment").  God owns time.  Time is an inconsequential medium for our creator.  King David said; "For a thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night" (Psalm 90:4).  One thousand years equals one day.  One million years equals two days.  One billion years equals three days.  The apostle Paul also talks about God's eternal nature.  In Romans Paul says, "For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities - his eternal power and divine nature - have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made so that men are without excuse."  God has bought all the universe's real-estate in the market of time.

(By the way, this is why it is sometimes the best policy to wait for some time after a particularly difficult life situation, or someone says something mean to us, or we face a challenge.  Since God owns time, and God is with us…time is on our side.  God gives us time to think and pray and respond in…due time.  The Bible says we are all allotted "three-score and ten" years - 70), time is our best ally in processing hard things.)

Eternal Life:
One of the hallmark tenants of our faith is that those who believe in Jesus Christ are promised eternal life.  Of course, eternal life means a whole lot more than just infinity.  A better translation of eternal life is; "full life, overflowing life, life in plentitude, whole life, complete life".  However, God also offers us a the key to infinity.  God offers us a number of years to live, that never ends.  God offers those who believe in Him life without end.  John Zebedee puts it best in 1 John 5:11, "And this is the testimony; God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.  He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son does not have life."  Being a Christ follower means that our souls have eternal access to infinity.

And yet, infinity, in and of itself, is quite a scary idea when it boils down to it.  I will never forget when I was about Haley's age (like daughter, like father), and I was visiting my Scottish grandparents in Edinburgh.  I was trimming the hedge out front one morning, and the thought occurred to me that since I was a Christ follower, that I would live forever.  The thought terrified me!  Forever was too long.  Forever lasts…forever.  "Daddy," I said, "I don't want to live forever, it never ends, I will never rest, it will go on for infinity…."  My Dad assured me of one very important thing.  "Heaven, eternity, is not like this life.  God will be with you, you will be with God.  I will be with you.  We will all be with one another with God, in a very different form."

And that, my friends, is my best current definition of heaven

Heaven = Infinity + 1

Heaven = Infinity + God

We live forever with God.    

Way to go Haley!

That's all the TIME I have for this week's blog post…

All For Now,

Sunday, June 8, 2014

mission street church

"Behold, I will do a new thing; now it shall spring forth; shall ye not know it?" (Is. 43:19)

After months of prayer, discernment, reflection, contemplation, deliberation, Bible study, long chats deep into the night with friends, fellowship with family, laying awake at night and listening for the Spirit's voice, and definitely feeling the solid nudge of God, Star and I have a very exciting announcement to make.  Starting on July 1, 2014, we will be beginning the process of building a brand new church in Camarillo, California called "Mission Street Church".  We really believe that this New Church Development is a work of God's leading, and we pray that it will always be full of the power of the Holy Spirit.  Here are a few specific details:

Where is Camarillo?
Camarillo is about 1 hour's drive north of downtown Los Angeles, and 20 minutes from the Pacific Coast.  Camarillo is not far from Thousand Oaks where the famed "Calvary Chapel" is located, and Simi Valley where "Crossroads" (Francis Chan's former church) is located.  There are around 80,000 residents in Camarillo and at least 200,000 residents within a 10 minute radius of Camarillo.  The area is largely "de-churched" with approximately 5% of the population who attend any church.  The Camarillo region is basically unchurched.

What Denomination Will the Church Be?
"Mission Street" will be a member church of The Fellowship of Presbyterians, and a part of the Presbyterian Church (USA).  The church will be a plant of the Santa Barbara Presbytery (a Presbytery which I was previously a part of).  Star and I will continue to pray for our brothers and sisters in the ECO denomination and the EPC denomination.  We recognize that there are continuing struggles and challenges associated with being a member of the PC (USA).  And yet, we feel called to hold onto core qualities of good within the PC (USA), and to work toward a ministry of hope and good news.  We know that the Holy Spirit will continue to use all three denominations, when they are filled with humility and Christ's sacrifice, for good to the glory of God.  We also feel strongly that the next epoch in Christian development in America will be largely post-denominational.  This means that denomination, whichever one we are a part of, will become less and less important.

Why "Mission Street" As a Name?
The central most artery of California, and the place of the most historic road is the "El Camino Real" (The King's Highway).  In the 1600's this road (today known as Freeway 101) was dotted with Mission Church after Mission Church.  The "El Camino Royale" was even sometimes referred to, back in the day, as "The Mission Road".  Mission Street will attempt to be a completely mission focussed church.  In fact, more than that, Mission Street will be a mission itself.  

What Will the Mission of "Mission Street" Be? 
Our primary mission and focus will be to help, "dechurched people become fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ."  We realize that because the United States is very much now in a post-Christian period, this will require extra amounts of creativity, prayer, humility, and lots of hard work.  More and more people look for truth and meaning outside of church, doctrine and the Bible.  I believe in the future that effective churches will be extremely careful about being perceived as judgmental, and will attempt to "meet people where they are".  Healthy churches will strive to lovingly live out the gospel and individuals who attend them will "taste and see that the Lord is good."  

What Are We in Need Of?
We are in strong need two very important things.  First, we need your prayer.  No movement of God, and certainly no church, can be brought into being without consistent and persevering prayer.  Specific things we need prayer for are a worship space, an office space, a worship leader, an executive director, and a children's ministries director.  Please pray for us!

Secondly, we are in need of additional financial support.  Starting new churches is not an inexpensive endeavor.  In almost every one of Paul's epistles he talks about the need to raise money for the churches that he began.  Mission Street Church is no different.  If you, who have been faithful blog-readers of mine for many years now, feel called to help with the finances of Mission Street (even a very small amount can help), please send checks to The Presbytery of Santa Barbara (6067 Shirrell Way, Goleta, CA. 93117).  Simply earmark the money for "Mission Street Church".

This new church will obviously be a herculean undertaking for the entire Baird family.  Please continue to lift up our two daughters (Haley and Sheena) and Star and I in pray and support.

Look forward to future blogs with more info and details.

And now, we begin…"a new thing!"

All For Now,