Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Monday, December 21, 2009

JOY


‘Tis the Seasons, right?
I mean, this is the time when everyone is supposed to feel all holiday and sentimental. Where generosity is supposed to trump greed. Where being full is supposed to be accompanied by being fulfilled.

But I would argue that for many, this season reveals our lack. That even in the display of multi-covered Christmas light shows (and there are many on the Eastside, ranging from sublime to spectacle) we sense a longing. That even finishing our Christmas shopping list early leaves us yearning. Many of us feel our pain slightly more around Christmas…I’m talking about relational pain, emotional pain, spiritual pain. I’m speaking of the pain that centers around dreams unmet in a fallen world, not the pain of dropping a frozen turkey on your foot (although if you google this, you’ll find that there are many suffering with that pain as well).

Here, recognizing the limits of yuletide cheer, is where I believe Christmas becomes magic.

When we invite Jesus to be born, even here. When we prepare Him room, even here. In the midst of our pain. In the center of our lack. In the hole of our yearning. We invite the Lord Jesus to be born here in the mess, in our brokenness, in the fallen-ness of our world. Jesus, be born in us. We have prepared room for you.

This is Joy. This is joy to the world, to our world.
In the darkest time of year, light.
In the stillness of the night, praise.
In the stink of the stable, glory.

I don’t know what trials you face, what darkness, what you wrestle with in circumstances or in personality, internally or externally, but I do know this: the magic of Christmas is for you. And it’s for me. It’s for everyone.

It’s Immanuel, God with us.
And what it brings is JOY.

Four Hamburgers


This blog is written by my wife Jodie, from Durban, South Africa, while she was leading a Mission Team there...for more of her work, click here

At first glance, the Zulu children we met on the bus en route to Ithemba Lethu’s leadership camp were just like any other seventh graders we had ever met. They boarded the bus with tremendous enthusiasm. They were full of life and noise and a certain pre-teen angst. They were excited to be with their friends, armed with bits of junk food, slightly insecure and were chatting about celebrities and rappers. If one didn’t already know that the children were from one of Durban’s poorest townships, that most lived in tin shacks, or that many were being raised by siblings just a few years older than them, it wouldn’t have been immediately obvious that these kids differed from suburban American youth.

As the weekend progressed, we began learning more details about their lives. One child’s parents had just died. Her mother died of AIDS and her father was murdered by human hands. She was now living with an aunt who didn’t want her. Several of the children were being physically abused on a regular basis. School was not a safe place for the kids because teachers hit them with pipes.


As we sat down together for meals, I began to notice that the kids were consuming food in massive quantities. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner were provided at the camp and to our American team, it was typical camp food. Palatable but, far from gourmet. I ate enough to sustain me but wasn’t interested in going back for seconds. As I pushed food around my plate, the kids were inhaling every morsel of food on their plates. They went back for seconds, thirds, and fourths. They had an astounding affinity for ketchup. A 65 pound boy sitting next to me consumed four hamburgers in a row.

We were keeping the kids incredibly busy with soccer games, jump rope, swimming, late nights, and obstacle courses. “They have really worked up an appetite,” I rationalized. “They are almost teenagers, after all.”

As the weekend continued so did the pace of the eating and I began to wonder how children could possibly consume so much food without becoming ill. I mentioned the spectacle of food consumption to one of the youth workers and she replied, “When they get home, they will only have pap and sweet water. They’re eating as much as they can here because there’s little food at home.”

Her words felt like a sucker punch to the gut. The food I was turning my nose up at was an incredible, luxurious, excessive feast for the children. They were eating like mad because they didn’t know when they would get to eat again.

I’m still not sure what to do with this or about it. It’s an injustice I feel overwhelmed by and powerless to correct. All I know is that God called me to this place at this time to interact with these children. So, I interacted and I encouraged. I prayed for them and tried to love them.

In the midst of their dire circumstances, thanks to the efforts of the Ithemba Lethu team, the kids are learning to become leaders, learning to make different choices than their parents. I cannot for one second label these children as victims. The term connotates powerlessness.

And these children are not powerless. They are survivors and heroes.

I can't wrap this post up in neat bow. I have no clue how to end a post like this. Sometimes we need to live in the tension....

Presence


Today's Blog is provided by a guest blogger: the lovely Jodie Howerton. She recently returned from leading a Team to South Africa...here are her thoughts:

I'm spending the first half of December in Durban, South Africa, leading a team of incredibly wonderful people from our church on a missions trip. I was here last December, with another amazing team. After a flight cancellation, three airplanes, layovers across the globe, and 4 solid days of ministry with school age Zulu children, I'm finally sitting down to reflect, process and, well, blog.

Our mission here is to support a local organization called Ithemba Lethu. Ithemba Lethu means "I have a Destiny" in Zulu. In truth, the wonderful staff of IL could survive without our help. We are not here to save the day in typical American, independent cowboy fashion. Quite simply, after seeing the incredibly way they are changing the world, we begged them to let us participate, to literally ride their coattails. We wanted to get in on what they're already doing and thankfully, they said they could use us.


Ithemba Lethu works in the public schools in the townships, educating school children (beginning in grade 5) about the risks of HIV/AIDS and about each child's immeasurable value to God. They believe you can't do one without the other. The kids have grown up in poverty with little to eat and little to hope for. They do not actually know their infinite worth to God when they start the program.

42% of pregnant mothers in Cato Manor are HIV positive. Forty-two percent. This means that 42% of infants are at risk of contracting the virus in -utero or during birth. If the children living in Cato Manor do not contract the disease in infancy, there is a very large chance they will contract it later in life. The townships in South Africa have one of the highest rates of child rape in the world. These children are in danger every day, all the time, of contracting the disease that has spread like wildfire in their midst. The children know all about HIV/AIDS. They see it everyday, lurking in the shacks of their makeshift community. They have lost parents, aunts,uncles, friends to the disease.

We went away to camp with 140 school age leaders from the local township schools and the incredible Ithemba Lethu staff youth workers. The kids spoke Zulu and a little English and the Americans spoke English and absolutely no Zulu. The goal of the weekend was to hang out with the kids, teach them that they matter, and introduce them to the love of Jesus. We had all kinds of plans. Crafts, beads, balls, jump ropes.... But, when it came down to it, we ended up sitting around a lot, trying to break through the language barrier. We sat with them during meal times, we sat with them during activities. We sat at the piano, teaching them basic notes. We sat and smiled. We had a few significant conversations and we cheered like insane fans during their outside competitions. We walked with them on the beach and showed them how to make bracelets. Then, we sat with them some more. By nature, I'm a task master. I like having to-do lists and outlines. I began to wonder what we were accomplishing. Admittedly, I'm not very good at sitting, resting or just being present.

It just seems terribly inefficient.

Turns out, the sitting around was the best possible gift we could have given these kids. Our very presence, our unrelenting efforts to sit next to them and turn jump ropes for them communicated the very thing we had hoped. That they matter, that they are worth the time of a few crazy Americans. And that God loves them. We gave them the gift of presence. We showed up and stayed. Much like God shows up and stays with all of us. Presence is not something one can quantify or measure. You cannot represent it through statistics or pie charts.

We'd appreciate your prayers as we head off to another camp today.

I can't wait to spend some quality time just sitting around.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

3 Encouraging Things


Vision Campaign: OCC 2012: Changing the World by Degrees: Be the Degree

Pastor Mike has been focused lately.
I’ve been consumed with this Vision Campaign for the last 6 months, maybe more. I’ve shared with good friends that it’s been a difficult road for me. I feel that the assault has been massive: fear, stress, anxiety, discouragement, depression, temptation, fatigue, exhaustion, feeling alone, developing an eye twitch…these are just a few of the weapons that I feel have been leveled against me. I think it’s like that whenever followers of Jesus attempt to do something powerful for His name’s sake.

As we wrap towards completing the public arm of this thing (the next TWO weeks are going to be powerful!), it was fun to have 3 encouraging things happen.

One, we had a full membership (changing the name to MISSION-ship) class last night…where we had to just keep adding chairs for all the folks streaming in. Energy, excitement, and passion for Jesus were profoundly encouraging to me.

Two, we received a $1000 check towards our vision campaign. From a family that lives in California. They have only been to OCC a handful of times, but as they track with us online, they heard about OCC 2012 and wanted to be a part of God’s amazing work through this campaign.

Three, a college student sent me an email. I won’t steal his reward by mentioning his name. But the short story is that he had been addicted to porn for years. He found the grace of Jesus at OCC, and now he’s porn free, in accountability, and amazed at Jesus. He said that he knows he used to look at women from Thailand…maybe even some of the slaves that we are seeking to set free. So God expanded his heart. This full-time student on a part-time salary committed $100 a month for the next 3 years, so that he could set slaves from the sex-industry free.

Passion. Selflessness. Freedom. 3 encouraging things.

Be encouraged today!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Don't Miss your Moment

I want to show you a moment.

This moment is a glimpse. If you play your cards right, if you trust Jesus and take a RISK every now and again for HIM, then this moment is certainly one that you can look forward to.

But if you think it’s about you. If you choose to turn inward. If you never take a RISK for Jesus, then you’ll miss it.



Don’t miss your moment.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Akeelah and the Bee, and a Church on Fire


I watched Akeelah and the Bee last Friday night with my family. It was a warm movie about an inner city middle school girl, who competes, and wins the National Spelling Bee. Lawrence Fishburne plays her coach. The uplifting story line contained elements of overcoming, of rising above, of stepping through fear, of daring to be great.

I’m honored to be a part of a church that is a part of a similar kind of uplifting story. Overlake is truly pursuing God’s call. It is a selfless story of overcoming. Of rising above. Of stepping through fear. Of daring to be great. I’m not overstating this.

OCC is called to be a church of 10,000 lives living free in Jesus, impacting 100,000 lives around the world. In a season of economic uncertainty, we seek to invest $3million in each of our 3 purposes: Love God, Love People, and Serve the World.

The Love God initiatives will focus on local Bringvitation, sharing Christ’s love with our community. The Love People initiatives will focus on Transformation, growing more and more like Jesus. And the Serve the World initiatives focus on Multiplication, caring and sharing around the globe. Which, practically speaking, means this: 1000 slaves set free. 2000 orphans placed in homes. 50 HIV/AIDS clinics opened. 1000 churches planted. Lives will be saved. Eternities will be changed. Hope will be offered.

I’d love to invite you to be a part of this journey too.

In Akeelah and the Bee, there is a quote from Nelson Mandela (at least it is credited to him; perhaps he just quoted it as well). It goes like this:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world.”

Overlake, you are not a church that plays small. Let us Love God, Love People, and Serve the World, together.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Mobilizing towards Vision


In light of an incredible Vision Campaign, called OCC 2012, (details at occ.org) my buddy Chris sent me these thoughts as an encouragement. Please be encouraged by them as well! Thank you, Chris, and thank you friends, for being on the journey, praying and joining us in Changing the World by Degrees!!!! Chris’s email follows:

“The word kosmokrateros (“rulers of the darkness of this world”) is a military term that has to do with discipline, organization, and commitment. The devil is so serious about doing damage to humanity that he deals with demon spirits as though they are troops! He puts them in rank and file and organizes them to the hilt. Meanwhile, the average Spirit-filled believer often doesn’t stay in one church for more than one year at a time!

“Yes, we do have more authority than the devil has; we do have more power than the devil has; and we do have the Greater One living in us. The Church of Jesus Christ is loaded with heaps and heaps of raw power. But at this particular time, that power is disconnected and disjointed by a Body that lacks discipline, organization, and commitment!

“As Christians, we have no power shortage, nor are we short of God-given authority. We simply have a great lack of discipline, organization, and commitment. In order to change this, we must buckle down in the local church and begin to view ourselves as the troops of the Lord! Once we match the discipline, organization, and commitment that the enemy possesses in his camp, we will begin to move into the awesome demonstration of God’s power!” -From the book “Dressed to Kill” by Rick Renner, p. 238

This section jumped out at me as it related to the OCC 2012 Vision campaign. What this vision is providing is direction, organization and calling us to a commitment as a church to bring all our individual focus together as ONE body and directing it towards a God honoring set of initiatives. As we succeed at this, I am super excited to see what God is going to do through it.

I appreciate the leadership that you, the elders and staff are bringing to this campaign and to our church. Continue to mobilize our “army” at OCC to come against the devil’s schemes and we WILL prevail!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

CRAVE Adventure

I think it’s at the center of the human experience. Adventure. God has planted deep within our hearts a longing for FULL life, for experiencing His Abundance, for stepping through our fear and taking a RISK with HIM…this is partially what we refer to when we use the word FAITH. Now, I know that there is another aspect of the human experience that wars with this one: the side that longs for comfort, for ease, for peace. That hobbit-ish side of each of us that thinks adventures are nasty little things that make one late for dinner.

Here’s the road that I’m walking NOW: I have heard God’s call, and we’re walking the road of RISK at Overlake Christian Church (www.occ.org). However, as we’ve taken the first few steps, I’m being buffetted by fear. Discouragement is roaring, loudly. Temptation whispers in the wings, and on top of it all is the stress of attempting something that is without question more significant than anything I’ve ever attempted in 19 years of ministry. The hobbit-ish side mentions something like maybe the status quo isn’t so bad after all.

And then it hits me: Of course.
This vision IS more important than anything I’ve ever pursued in my whole life. It has HUGE consequences: hundreds, thousands, and even hundreds of thousands of souls will be impacted for eternity. People who are far from HOPE will find it in Jesus. Slaves will be set free. Street children will be adopted into homes. Churches will be planted.

We have an enemy. He’s been taking shots at me. But not for my own sake, not because I’m important. He’s trying to take me out because this kind of thing SCARES him. Churches waking up. Hearts set ablaze. Love practically impacting lives. He hates it. So let’s pour it on.

Encouragement came this morning while reading a book by John Eldredge, called Walking with God. In a chapter called Assault. He describes what I’ve been walking through with crystal clarity. Antidote: Draw close to God, and continue to RISK for Him. After all, he’s planted adventure deep within our hearts…

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Sex and GRACE

This week we’re wrapping up our Series on LOVE by talking about Grace, and how the Gospel, the good news of God’s love made known through Jesus, is the key to life, to freedom, and to change. His grace and forgiveness are transformative.

I’m excited to unpack this more at Overlake, but for now I’d love to share some insight from Tim Keller, from a paper he wrote called Gospel: The Key to Change.

Tim Keller writes:

Paul says to Christians, ‘your life is hid with Christ in God’ (Col 3:3), and in numerous places he says that we are now ‘in Him.’ This means, on the one hand, that the Father accepts us in Christ and treats us as if we had done all that Jesus has done (cf. Col 3:2a). But this is also means Christ’s life comes into us by the Spirit and shapes us into a new kind of person. The gospel is not just a truth about us that we affirm with our minds, it is also a reality we must experience in our hearts and souls.

He goes on to say:

Paul does the same thing in Ephesians 5:25ff, where he urges husbands to be faithful to their wives. What is the point? What makes you a sexually faithful spouse, a generous-not avaricious-person, a good parent and/or child is not just redoubled effort to follow the example of Christ. Rather, it is deepening your understanding of the salvation of Christ and living out of the changes that understanding makes in your heart—the seat of your mind, will, and emotions. Faith in the gospel re-structures our motivations, our self-understanding and identity, and our view of the world. Behavioral compliance to rules without heart-change will be superficial and fleeting. The gospel changes your heart…. The gospel is the dynamic for all heart-change, life-change, and social-change. Change won’t happen through 'trying harder' but only through encountering with the radical grace of God.

On the topic of repentance, Keller writes:

It is important to consider how the gospel affects and transforms the act of repentance. In ‘religion’ the purpose of repentance is basically to keep God happy so he will continue to bless you and answer your prayers. This means that ‘religious repentance’ is a) selfish, b) self-righteous, c) and bitter all the way to the bottom. But in the gospel the purpose of repentance is to repeatedly tap into the joy of our union with Christ in order to weaken our need to do anything contrary to God’s heart….

In the gospel our hope is in Christ’s righteousness, not our own – so it is not so traumatic to admit our weaknesses and lapses…. the more accepted and loved in the gospel we feel, the more and more often we will be repenting. And though of course there is always some bitterness in any repentance, in the gospel there is ultimately sweetness. This creates a radical new dynamic for personal growth. The more you see your own flaws and sins, the more precious, electrifying, and amazing God’s grace appears to you. But on the other hand, the more aware you are of God’s grace and acceptance in Christ, the more able you are to drop your denials and self-defenses and admit the true dimensions of your sin. The sin under all other sins is a lack of joy in Christ.

Monday, September 28, 2009

SEX: What I couldn't say at Church

Last Sunday we talked about SEX at church. (Hit occ.org/media to watch the message). There’s always more to cover. After the first service, an elderly couple was exiting, and talking. The wife asked the husband, “What do you want to do today, hon? Do you want to get breakfast, or do you want to watch the Seahawks game?” And he looked at his bride with a twinkle in his eye…”You KNOW what I want to do!” And they laughed together.

Heard one story (from the principle parties) of a man many years ago who asked his crush out on a First date. For some reason they decided to go to church. They were listening to the message when he opens up to Song of Solomon, begins to read, and nod, and says “Amen, Amen.” She’s curious. She cranes her head over to see what he is reading, and he shows her the verse that says your breasts are like clusters of fruit (SOS 7:7,8)…there is a moment of silence as their eyes lock, and she starts laughing at his quirky sense of humor. They celebrated 40 years of marriage last year. Friends, don’t try this today. Today this doesn’t lead to the altar of marriage, as quickly as it leads to a lawsuit.

Song of Songs, or Song of Solomon is a book in the bible that is so explicit, young Jewish boys were not allowed to read it until they were determined to be of a certain responsible age. It not only wows with it’s poetic imagery and it’s erotic setting, but it captures a love that is rapturous, as God desires monogamy in marriage to be. Finally, it is a metaphor of the kind of intimacy in prayer that is desired by the Lord for His people, and a precursor to the union of Jesus the bridegroom with His Bride, the church.

Several of the questions that I’ve received through the years have to do with the sexual activity that the Bible refers to. So I read through the Bible’s most metaphorical and explicit book on sexuality, and I have no doubt that after reading it, you’ll discard ANY notion that sex within marriage is designed to be dull or boring. Here’s how another pastor puts it:

The Song of Songs gives great liberty to sexual freedom and the full use of all five senses.
1. kissing (SOS 1:2)
2. oral/fellatio – her initiative (SOS 2:3)
3. manual stimulation – her invitation (SOS 2:6)
4. petting – his initiative (SOS 4:5)
5. oral/cunnilingus – his initiative (SOS 4:12-5:1)
6. striptease – (SOS 6:13b-7:9)
7. new places, positions, etc. including outdoors – her initiative (SOS 7:11-13)

As long as both participants in the marriage bed are feeling comfortable and honored, then there is great freedom and enjoyment planned by the Lord there.

Is it hot in here? I’ll say: the last time I taught this material my Father in Law was in the front row! I had to tell him, “Randy, after 13 years of marriage and 2 kids, you need to know…I’ve been sleeping with your daughter!” It just felt good to get that off my chest.

Remember, there are three types of sex for married couples:
1. Practice. Talking, communicating, discovering what sorts of things that both of you enjoy together.
2. Maintenance. This is due to high levels of exhaustion, and it’s sort of the minimum requirement necessary. Many couples live here, and it’s one of the reasons why the spark isn’t sparking like it used to.
3. Feasting. This is when you prioritize date nights, weekends away, and even vacations together without the kiddos. Again, for a Biblical example of feasting, read through Song of Solomon together, by yourselves, listening to your favorite romantic tunes with the fire roaring and the kids at grandma’s house for the night.

I know the world messes with sex all sorts of ways. But God really did give it as an incredible gift…Cherish your spouse, and honor your marriage bed…

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Seven Day Sex Challenge



As I understand it, Pastor Ed Young Jr. challenged his congregation (the married folks in the Fellowship Church in Texas) to take up a challenge to have relations with spouse everyday for a week. He talked about it on the Colbert Report, and it's pretty hilarious. His point was that God has a plan for husbands and wives to be close, and that frequent physical connection would bring spouses closer together, not drive them farther apart.

It’s a fun idea.

At least it has the potential to be a fun idea.

And if you’re married, and it sounds completely NOT like a fun idea, then there are probably some really important things that you and your spouse need to commit to working through. Because God does want you close to Him and to one another. God does want you honest and available to your spouse. God does want you tender and affectionate. I know it’s a fallen world and things can be hard in certain seasons. But if that’s the case in your life, please don’t just accept that as normal. Instead, pursue help and wholeness. Seek Jesus, and godly counsel. Spend some time in 1 Corinthians 7.

I’m posting the video of Pastor Ed on Stephan Colbert, and I’d love to bring the challenge to the married couples who are reading this. The challenge is simply this: do whatever you can to grow closer to your spouse. Take steps this week to grow more giving towards your wife. Seek to pursue your husband in new and fresh ways. And ask Jesus to help you walk this road.

Peace. Enjoyment. Closeness. Who knew these are just a few of the good things God has in store for you in marriage?

http://www.colbertnation.com/the-colbert-report-videos/216624/january-26-2009/ed-young

p.s. For some reason I can't embed the video...but it is worth cutting and pasting it...if for no other reason than to watch Pastor Ed's face get progressively more red throughout the interview...

Friday, September 18, 2009

Marriage Disclaimers


(from one Pastor regarding one message on Marriage in which a single sermon isn’t going to be able to address most of the nuances and difficulties of two people living together in love for a lifetime in a fallen world without going insane). This weekend at Overlake, MARRIAGE is the topic in our LOVE: THAT 4 Letter Word Series. Here are the disclaimers in advance:

D1: There is no way 30 minutes, regardless of how skillfully crafted (oh, and this one IS skillfully crafted, friends) can address every situation or season a marriage faces.
D2: This message will be infinitely helpful as a Biblical target to strive towards.
D3: This message is not designed to exclude single people. If you are single, and someday hope to be married, I believe this is a phenomenal message to be challenged by. If you are single and have decided that your singleness is God’s Gift to you, and do not plan on ever marrying, then you will be WONDERFULLY encouraged by this weekend’s message. You won’t have to deal with any of this mess.
D4: If you are married currently, this message will be infinitely challenging. Hopefully and helpfully challenging.
D5: If you are married currently, and your personal emotional stance regarding your marriage is somewhere between “hurting” and “ridiculously broken” then I sincerely want to pray for you, and provide any resources that OCC has to come alongside you in your journey. We believe that God has health and wholeness for you. Please contact Pastor Larry for a full rundown of the counseling resources and support groups that are offered currently. He’s at larryb@occ.org
D6: If you’re currently engaged to be married, this message will cause you to break off your engagement. Just kidding. That was a joke. Seriously. You can breathe again. I believe this sets an INCREDIBLY helpful mental posture as you head into marriage. DO get into one of OCC’s pre-marital counseling classes (you can hit Pastor Larry for that as well).
D7: If you are divorced, there will be no shame or judgment levied against you. But I do predict that you will agree that if both parties in your previous marriage strove towards the Biblical Perspective we are talking about, then the whole shooting match would have turned out differently. And OCC has resources to come alongside you as well.
D8: If you are currently head-over-heels in love with your spouse, then you’ll leave OCC going “why the disclaimers? Mike was just ON. I love it when he PREACHES it. Now get over here and French-Kiss me wildly. It's business time.”

FINAL DISCLAIMER: There is very little substitute for pure grace offered to one another without any expectation in return. It is simultaneously the most difficult AND the most Christ-like thing that you could ever offer in any relationship. As you pursue health, wholeness, communication, love, desires, needs, and plans, never forget that you stand knee-deep in grace. God’s Grace is for you. God’s grace is for your spouse. Receive His grace, and then offer it to others…

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Juiced up Pastor


The sun is streaming down into my office, and I’m a bit in awe of God this morning, and I can’t stop thinking about OCC’s membership class last night. I'm a bit juiced up...

God is so good. Another full, and over-full class, another amazing collection of humanity…a cross section of intergenerational, multi-ethnic, amazingly talented, incredible humans…a picture of heaven. One couple had been at OCC for 5 years. Many had been attending for more than a year. But the majority are new to our church within the last 12 months. New life, fresh perspective.

We crash-coursed through Unity, Purpose, Truth, and Covenant. Then we prayed, and after that the conversations began. Pastor Gary and I spent an hour or more just hanging out and connecting with individuals and families who floored me. This couple is from Brazil, she’s a famous folk singer there, and they want to start a Portuguese-speaking life group in their home. This couple started a web resource called Soulbyte, and they want to make products specifically to support the congregation of Overlake. This woman is so passionate about Seattle that she can’t wait until we open a venue down near Pioneer’s Square so we can welcome the demographic that can’t make it to our campus into the same kind of dynamic environment where they can meet Jesus.

There were the amazing stories of how people found our church. Some by accident. Some were looking for another church, and happened to get the directions wrong. Some were planning on going to another church with an earlier service and didn’t get ready in time, so they had to find a church with a later service start time (ours are 9:20, 11am, and 6pm on Sundays). One couple was interested in trying every church EXCEPT Overlake, until a friend earnestly suggested that she give it a try. They did, their family loved it, and now they’ve found a home. One family drives up from Tacoma! What the what?!

These things I share knowing that God is up to something. It is something good. Something exciting. Something impactful. Something that glorifies HIM. He’s on the move at the OCC…

To those of you who were at our membership class last night, I simply want to say again what an HONOR it is to be on this journey with you. To those of you who aren’t yet connected to a life-giving, freedom-living, passionate-for-Jesus kind of church, I humbly want to invite you to check out OCC. And to those of you who are IN, who are ready to charge the gates of Hell with a war-cry and a watergun, I want to say, “Let’s DO this thing!”

Love God.
Love People.
Serve the World.

And remember that its all for Jesus.

p.s. OCC.org is a great place to go to get questions answered…our current series on LOVE: THAT 4 Letter Word…our archives contain all sorts of Hot Topics as well if you’re curious…love to invite you to poke around a bit…Blessings today...and JUICE!!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Praying for Miley


Today, in honor of her Concert at the Tacoma Dome, I confess that I listened to Miley Cyrus on my wife’s ipod. Through my daughter, Miley, or Hannah Montana, has invaded our home, via Disney TV, cd’s played in our car, and merchandise like cups, nightlights, and toothbrushes. Miley is a big deal around here. So I thought I’d write Miley a quick note. You are welcome to read it, too.

Dear Miley,
I pray for you. I invite others to pray for you as well. I bet that might come across sounding hard, or meanspirited, but that’s not my heart. It is offered with compassion and grace. Here’s what I mean:

Miley, you have achieved the kind of stardom and wealth that very, very few people ever achieve. I’m talking Solomon-like wealth. Flipping through an issue of Time, I read that last year, your merchandise net alone brought in 1.3 billion dollars. Bring in the way Disney has packaged your TV personality into a product. Add in the CD sales and your 3-D concert movie. Remember that you can sell out a stadium concert faster than anyone ever has. There’s a lot of gravy flowing, and Billy Ray’s little girl is riding that train at breakneck speed. Since wealth is power, I pray that you’ll steward yours well.

As far as I know, Miley, you are like 16 years old. I can remember how chaotic and circus-like my life was at 16. There was friend drama, the weeks that circled around our Friday night football games, the invites to parties, the time I crashed my car, and of course the pinnacles and heartbreaks swirling around the quest for a girlfriend. And if life was crazy for me at 16, I can’t imagine how crazy it would be for a person who is an uber-gazillionaire. In America, celebrity is royalty, and Miley, you are the current reigning princess. That has to mess with your head. So I pray that it doesn’t.

Not only that, but I remember making some pretty dumb moves as a 16 year old. And the thought of having every bonehead move photographed and splashed on the front page of a gossip rag is just shameful. I mean that literally…it produces shame. To know that everything you do, every boy you go out with, every fight you have with your dad will be news…I imagine that produces an overwhelming amount of pressure. So I pray for you.

I ran to the punk-pop-beat of your songs today, and I was admiring them. The come across like fun Go-Go’s tunes (I cut my chops on the 80’s) filled with energy, and a bubble-gum-smack voice that cracks at just the right time, like Cosette from my Les Mis Broadway Soundtrack (I am hoping this is a compliment to you both). But here is why I truly like them…the Lyrics. Wholesome, filled with themes of love, of falling in love, and of empowerment. You sing a song to your deceased grandfather called I Miss You, and it’s touching. You have a song with a chorus that says, “Don’t let anyone tell you that you’re not strong enough.” And when I see my daughter belting those words out with all that she’s got, I get this crazy lump in my throat. There are so many negative and hurtful messages in the songs of our culture, and I celebrate the ones that are joyful or quality. And so I pray for yours.

In fact, the biggest reason that I pray for you, Miley is my daughter, Alex. My daughter is 9 years old. She wears glasses and plays soccer. She has the most beautiful, innocent, compassionate soul that I’ve ever seen. She befriends everyone, especially the kids that don’t have a ton of other friends. Once her teacher brought in a new student, mid-year, who didn’t speak much English. Alex moved her seat to sit next to her, and stayed with her all day showing her around school, and introduced her to all her friends. The only reason I know this is because her teacher emailed the story to us, and both my wife and I teared up when we read it. I’m tearing up right now as I try to figure out how to communicate the absolute golden nature of this beautiful child of God who has Jesus in her heart and Hannah Montana on her wall. For one reason or another, Alex has placed a portion of her heart in your hands. Miley, what you say matters to Alex. How you live matters. The lyrics in your songs matter, and the choices that you make…I just want you to know, they matter.

They don’t matter to the paparazzi who want to exploit you for a buck. They don’t matter to your PR folks who can figure out how to spin your life in an interesting way and sell the story to VH1. They don’t matter to handlers and managers, because the wild exploits of celebrities are what keep them in business. But they matter to little girls who have never had a hero before, and who have decided that you’re it. Life is going to try to knock those stars out of her eyes soon enough, and so I’m hoping…I’m begging…I am praying for you. I’m praying that you would please handle her heart with care.

And as I pray for you, I’d love to remind you that at the end of the day, this voice, this honor, this wealth, this ride, and this life that you’ve been given…you’ve been given it all by God. He loves you just because you’re you, I know you know that. And the greatest thing you can do, is to offer it all back to Him as a gift.

I’m praying for you.

Sincerely,

Alex’s Daddy

Friday, September 11, 2009

Date with JOY!!


OVERLAKE, in the spirit of our LOVE: that 4 Letter word, I wanted to give some auxiliary tips for maximizing your dating life…whether you are single, in a dating relationship right now, or married, and are looking to creatively date your spouse. Here are 30 low cost, relatively creative ideas that you can try to work through to keep things fresh…

DATES, Dates, and prunes:
1. Go to the Zoo (and try to discover an animal you never knew existed)
2. Backpack Snow Lake
3. Canoe at the Seattle Arboretum
4. Puddlejumping/mudball fights (10.5 months out of the year this works in Northwest)
5. Thrift Store Raiding (don’t spend more than 8 bucks!)
6. Cheap Food (Mexican or Italian are best, but tip well)
7. Picnic (better when themed, even better if you can get a mandolin serenade)
8. Rock Skipping (watch out for boats if you happen to be at Carillon Point)
9. Fish off of the pier at Newcastle Park
10. Toys R Us Video Game Blitz (you might have to share time with elementary school kids, but there are some great games for you gamer couples to sample)
11. Learn to Swing Dance
12. Fly a Kite
13. Little League/Soccer Fan it (cheer like crazy: extra points for wearing colors/painting face)
14. Roller Blade Sammamish River Trail
15. Borders Poetry Read (write your own…trust me, you’ll do fine)
16. Garage Sale it (but this is only for the early birds, or go at noon and complain that all people have is trash)
17. Sunset Watch at Bicrackie Park Hill
18. Sunset Watch in Style (rent Uhaul, bring couch, rug, candles, friends to serve the sparkling cider, open up the back right on a bluff overlooking the lake or the sound…)
19. Sail Boat out on Lake Washington
20. Walk the Flower Fields up in Mount Vernon
21. Live Music at a Coffee Shop and good conversation
22. Watch Salmon Run at the Ballard Locks
23. Walk SAM and surrounding Galleries and pretend you appraise art
24. Dress to the nines, and pretend you’re interested in buying Millionaire homes
25. Learn to Wakeboard together
26. Learn to Snowboard Together
27. Aquarium, Seattle Science Center
28. Explore Sunrise at Rainier
29. Take a ferry ride to Poulsbo and visit the Swedish downtown bakery
30. Have dinner rotating around the Space Needle
(Hint: 25 Best Places to Kiss in Seattle, by Paula Begoun)


More Helpful Dating Tips:
KILL THE MOVIE
Movies don’t provide interaction, and remember, that is the number one goal of dating: to learn about this person’s character and the compatibility that you share, and to learn some things about yourself. You can’t learn a whole lot by sitting silently next to someone for two hours, other than what kind of movies they like. Ask them what movies they like instead. Same with Married folks: you need the time to catch up…to reconnect…to fall in love again. For my wife Jodie and I, 2 hours at the Purple CafĂ© is great to send us running toward intimacy again. (Caviots: Sporting Events can be great fun as long as both parties agree that the the sporting event will be fun. Lots of good talk time. If you're the kind of guy who gets way too wrapped up in whether your team wins or no, skip altogether. Pike's Place, of course, is great for explore, talk, laugh, etc. If you ARE going to a movie, there are new theaters out there with waiters and fancy desserts and plush reclining armchairs...very posh and they deliciously enhance the experience. But build tons of connect time before and after...)



Gentlemen, ASK OUT IN STYLE
By being boldly creative, very average and homely men have found matches totally out of their league. One dude asked my wife out, when she was in High School. He put a helium balloon on her front porch each night with a different number in it. At the end of a week she had all the numbers to his phone number and he revealed who he was and the note said call me if you would like to go to prom with me. Isn’t that a good idea? Be creative! She said no to the guy, but you can’t win them all!


Save kissing for at least a season so you know if there is some quality there (if you missed the message on Sunday about Physical Intimacy you need to hit it at occ.org right now!) but if you get a sense that the guy or girl you are with is going to try to mack you and you don’t want to kiss them, here are a couple tips on HOW TO AVOID A KISS:

1) Eat nasty garlic and say, “No thanks, I’m good HEH HEH” when your date offers an Altoid
2) Fake a cold and begin to sneeze and blow your nose a lot as the date comes to a close
3) Talk about how painful your canker sores (plural) are…
4) Strategically place lettuce in your teeth and smile a ton

Those are for free. You’re welcome.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Rainbow Sandals


Most surfers and California beach-wear afecianados know what Rainbow Sandals are. They are a light-wear, leather sandal that forms to your foot, virtually indestructible, rather like wearing twin slices of heaven on your feet.

I like to think of them as the sandals Jesus wore.

Whenever we are back in San Clemente, Ca., we stop by the factory to pick up a pair or six. This last visit, the chief architect running the construction of the sandal manufacturing empire gave us a tour, and it was absolutely fascinating. Fashioning the leather straps, cutting the layers of rubber sole, applying the patented glue…you could tell this guy LOVED making Rainbows. Each one was special to him. And like Jelly Bellies, whose factory we also visited, even the flops were items of love and care. (Try purchasing bags of belly-flops the next time you’re passing through Fairfield, Ca.)

Which brings me to my own experience with Rainbows. I have owned, through the years, multiple pairs. They each have different purpose. My nice ones, I wear to work, or to important meetings, like with my elders, or the Mayor. My “Used to be Nice” pair has started to become worn and faded, and so they are my Lake Pair, or Surf Pair…whenever I’m heading to the beach, wherever they will potentially get soaked, or left out in the sun for hours…this is the pair that is good to go, rough and ready…my adventure pair. Then, I have my “Yardwork” set…my oldest and most cherished pair, I’ve loved them for more than a decade, but due to age, and rough wear, they are…what is the word I am looking for…shot. The rubber sole is worn thin, and the leather is worn completely through where my toe lands when I walk, and they stink, but let’s not dwell on that fact. What you need to know is that, if I were to send them back to the Rainbow factory, they would restore every worn part of the sandal and return them to me good as new, because that is their guarantee. But I am not eager to do that, because I love them exactly as they are.

In other words, I have some Rainbows that I use for noble purpose, some for ignoble purpose, but all of my Rainbows do I love dearly.

Now, I’m no Karl Barth, but I am certain that God loves you more than I love my Rainbow Sandals. The next time you read a difficult passage in the Scripture, like Romans 9:21, never forget that our God is the Lord of Love. And just like the factory in San Clemente, when we return to Him, He restores us and makes us good as new…that’s His guarantee.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Another Stott Shot


For some reason, this week I’m seeing how short I fall. I’m seeing how many times I’m choosing selfishness over selflessness. How many times I’m in need of the grace of Jesus just to keep BREATHING. I don’t think it is coincidence that this week we see the Cross of Christ more clearly than any other week. This is the place where grace flowed down to us. If you can read this quote, in love, without accusation, recognizing its truth, it will rock you.


Every time we look at the cross Christ seems to say to us, “I am here because of you. It is your sin I am bearing, your curse I am suffering, your debt I am paying, your death I am dying.” Nothing in history or in the universe cuts us down to size like the cross. All of us have inflated views of ourselves, especially in self-righteousness, until we have visited a place called Calvary. It is there, at the foot of the cross, that we shrink to our true size.
And of course men do not like it. John Stott, Authentic Christianity


Thank you for the Cross Service
Overlake Christian Church
Friday Night, 7pm
Childcare for kiddos under 5
Easter Services: Sat 5:20, 7pm, Sun 9:20, 11am

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

A Little Hot Stottie


(That’s my attempt to spice up a British Octogenarian Theologian…hot Stottie. John Stott. He’s hot. Enjoy.)

In his death Jesus did something objective, final, absolute and decisive; something which enabled him to cry on the cross, ‘It is accomplished’; something which is described by the author of the epistle to the Hebrews as ‘one sacrifice for sins for ever’; something which turns Christianity from pious good advice into glorious good news; which transforms the characteristic mood of Christianity from the imperative (do) into the indicative (done); which makes evangelism not an invitation for men to do something, but a declaration of what God has already done in Christ. John Stott, Authentic Christianity, pp 55

Thank You for the Cross Service
Overlake Christian Church
This Friday: 7pm
Childcare for Kiddos under 5
Easter Services Sat: 5:20, 7pm, Sun 9:20, 11am

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

God uses a Riding Mower


We’re coming up on our five-year anniversary living in the same house on the Eastside of Seattle. I think it bears mentioning that I’ve never lived in a single residence for this many successive years, and I think it means I’m maturing, (if by mature, I mean a more fatherly, more settled, less-schizophrenic sort of mature). The reason this figures important is that upon moving into our home, I purchased a riding lawnmower. It fulfilled a life-long dream.

So, five years ago, heading out to mow the lawn, my (then) two year old son would want to ride on my lap. Caleb would sit, nestled into the crook of my elbow, and talk up a blue streak, telling stories which were drowned out by the drone of the mower. But inevitably, after ten minutes or so, I would notice that he had stopped talking, and had begun yawning. That would be followed by his head nodding forward, or lolling backwards, and he’d be sound asleep. So I’d finish the lawn, steering with one hand and holding my sleeping son on my lap, with the other arm, and just praise, praise, praise, that my heavenly Father gave this earthly father a golden memory of mowing the lawn.

This happened regularly when Caleb was two.
And three.
And four. You get the picture. No, he doesn’t have narcolepsy.

Well, last weekend it was clear skies, and time to do the first yard clean up after the winter storms wrecked their havoc all over my suburban dreams. So I cleared branches away, and prepped the mower for the inagural run of ’09. I called over to Caleb, “Hey bud, you wanna help me mow?” Now, keep in mind, he turns seven next month. He’s, like, big.

“Sure, dad.” And he climbed up on my lap, talking a blue streak. Within a few moments, his stories turned to yawns. And then his head rested on my shoulder, and he was out.

This time, it was different.
In the first place, I was overwhelmed with the sense of love and closeness that I felt with my bud. I know it’s a clichĂ©, but I felt that heart was filled to bursting. I took more than a few extra laps to make the most of that time with my boy. And it hit me that in some respects, I know God must feel like that with us. It’s hard to believe, I know. But it’s true. God delights over us. God’s love for us is unlimited. Everlasting. Unconditional. Which means that we don’t need to perform to please Him. Even sleeping on His lap while he mows the lawn brings Him joy. Closeness is a value to God; that’s why He didn’t remain far removed, but came close in the person of Jesus.

In the second place, what struck me was the sense of ultimate unconcern that Caleb feels on my lap, on the mower. He is lulled to sleep by the hum of the motor, the strength of his dad, and the peace that pervades knowing that he is exactly where he is supposed to be. I thought to myself, this is what Psalm 23 speaks of. Complete peace in the strength of our Shepherd. Ultimate unconcern, knowing that He has things handled, He knows how to hold me, and how to get the job done, at the same time. This is the very picture of safety and contentment, and it’s found in our Father’s arms.

In the third place, it struck me that Caleb is turning seven soon, and boys don’t want to sit on their dad’s laps forever. I don’t know exactly what age that is, but the picture of him, as a full-sized teen sitting on my lap (tipping the mower over, most likely) didn’t evoke the same kind of emotion. I want him to grow to the fullness of stature and wisdom that God has for him, and I want to cheer him to great heights of godly influence and significant contribution. But he’s my little boy right now. And I’m not ready to lose these moments. So I was thankful again, for the chance, just this once more, to have my son knock out on my lap.

My prayer for you, (it’s the same prayer for me) is this: I pray that in the midst of pace, in the heat of planning, of running, of achieving and performing, you’d pause. Draw close to the ones you love. Celebrate the moment, because the moment won’t last forever. And find some time today to climb up in your Father’s arms, let Him drive the universe, and you just rest. He’s a strong dad.

You’ll never get to big for this lap.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Fantastic Mr. Stott


Since I love Jesus, I love grabbing truth that explores the fullness of what it means to live with him, for him, and through him. This is Mr. Stott, our protestant Pope, and it's only one tiny nugget from that rich vein.

"Certainly we must never conceive ‘salvation’ in purely negative terms, as if it consisted only of our rescue from sin, guilt, wrath and death. We thank God that is all these things. But it also includes the positive blessing of the Holy Spirit to regenerate, indwell, liberate and transform us. What a truncated gospel we preach if we proclaim the one without the other! And what a glorious gospel we have to share when we are true to Scripture!" –Stott, Baptism and Fullness, pg 26

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

A Well-Scrubbed Version of ME, part 1


In today’s world, technology offers us a unique view of one another. I’ve recently been wrestling with this. I am a follower of Jesus Christ. I seek to live my life consistent with the beliefs that I hold from Scripture. There are times when I live incredibly empowered by God’s Spirit. There are times that I stumble and fail. I try to keep short accounts with my wife, short accounts with my brothers, and short accounts with Jesus.

None of this is really where the rub is, hopefully none of this should land as a surprise. Here’s where I’ve been wrestling lately. On my Blog, on my Facebook pages, in my messages, I’ve been offering the “well scrubbed version of me.” So, while I believe that today’s technology offers a clearer view of KNOWING one another from a distance than has ever been possible before, I also recognize the potential for hypocrisy that exists. That’s why I’m calling it out. And because confession is good for the soul.

Here are a few ways that I scrub myself: PHOTOS.
The photos I post are typically selected from whole rolls of less exciting photos, and rolls and rolls of photos that picture me in an combination of unflattering, confused, and rather typical expressions. I try to scrub the boring out, so that a viewer might think, “It must be an amazing adventure to be a part of that clan!” It is and adventure, but not nearly as exciting as pics might suggest. I also choose to post pics of myself that make me look confident, strong, or handsome (Theses pics are more of a challenge to find).

I share a ton of family STORIES.
Those are typically the stories that make my kids sound like theologians, my wife sound like a patient genius, and that make me sound like a great dad, a great husband, and an all around great guy. They are all true. But what is also true are the stories where my kids fight like kids, where my wife is tired and short, and where I live closer to dolt-ness than to great-ness. I scrub the counter-balance, and so opinion is naturally prone to tip towards a too-favorable view.

Even my FAILURES are scrubbed. For example, I might share a time when Jodie was looking for help cleaning the house in preparation for the arrival of guests, while I was upstairs playing Galaga (yes, we have the old arcade version of Galaga, and yes, I am the MAN at it)…and I pretended that I couldn’t hear her calling. And that “confession” might actually make me sound more holy…like, oh look, even Mike gets a bit selfish sometimes. But I’ve scrubbed out the other times during the same weekend that I was already acting selfishly, and how frustrated that must make my wife, and how selfishness is something that I consistently battle to my great chagrin. (This paragraph is intentionally hypothetical, but I’m hoping you get the point. A small, safe confession scrubs me too clean.)

Here’s the last truth: I’m not changing the tactic of scrubbing. I truly don’t think Blogs or Status Updates are the best place to do deep soul-work, nor the best places for gut-level confession. I don’t suggest that to you, nor will I walk that road. But I do want you to be aware of the scrub.

Just knowing brings us closer to Jesus. And I guess the challenge is, for me and you both, to live more and more like the scrubbed versions of ourselves…

The truth shall set you free.
I’d love to hear how YOU scrub…

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

U2 is on God’s Ipod



I’m pretty sure.
I’m listening to the new U2, No Line on the Horizon, and I love it. The weakest part of the album is the title. I’m not going to review the album, (leaving the reviewing to persons of Musical Proficiency, like Rolling Stone Magazine, who gave it perfect marks). Instead I’m going to list a few reasons why I love U2, and why U2 fans are becoming more rabid, and why new crops of U2 fans are continually being harvested.

1. Instant Nostalgia.
I don’t know a single band that can make me longingly remember the past like U2. And it doesn’t have to be the distant past, either. “Mike, remember when you first heard the song, Moment of Surrender?” and I’d answer absolutely, and my eyes would glaze over a bit with romance. I remember exactly what I was doing. I was sitting on my bed, writing on my laptop, and waxing nostalgic. That was a good memory. It was like 4 minutes ago, but already in my golden past. Only U2 can do that.

2. Legitimate Nostalgia.
I can timeline my life by U2 albums. I was in Junior High when Unforgettable Fire came out, and there were two videos on MTV (Surrender was one, and I watched it with my mom). I talked to my buddy Gary Johnson about how they were Christians, and he said horrified, “WHAT! But they’re COOL!” In High School my buddy Robby Adams invited me to go to the Joshua Tree Concert and I blew it off. To this day, I’m pretty sure that’s my biggest bonehead regret. I kissed Jenny Hill at a Sophomore Dance to With or Without You. In college, I listened to Actung, Baby literally everyday for two semesters. In my travels, U2 was a constant soundtrack to inter-continental road trips. So today, listening to my U2 collection on shuffle, takes me through the epochs of my life.

3. Continual Innovation.
Some might even claim, “self-betterment.” Each subsequent album is a refreshing nod to the music that is already loved, and a stretch to new heights. When I first heard, “All that You Can’t Leave Behind,” I was amazed at the synthesis they were able to pull off…combining great sounds from their past but clearly pulling us into the future. When my son was three, he learned to make a ‘Rock and Roll’ face while drumming to Vertigo in his carseat.

4. Incredible Concerts.
If you’ve never been to a U2 show, I just need to encourage you to make the investment. 20,000 people with their hands raised singing “Yahweh, Yahweh” or the words to Psalm 40, or “Hallelujah” well…there really isn’t anything in our culture at large that is as unifying, nor as uplifting while being flat out fun.

5. Bono’s Work on Behalf of the Poor.
Celebrities have often picked causes to champion, but no one has logged more hours or miles, no one has met with more politicians, no one has accomplished more on behalf of the voiceless, and no one has invested that kind of effort without a paycheck of any kind. The One Campaign is just the tip of this guy’s berg. Bono and his wife have logged months in refugee camps. He’s the real deal.

6. Faith Matters.
My big love. Whether Bono is wailing about hope, or growling about loss of faith, God is in the Wings. The yearning for redemption is pervasive. Only these guys can pull of a whole song as a prayer to Jesus. Bono isn’t as big on theology as he is on poetry, which is perfect for his medium. But as a hawker of God’s grace, I don’t know of anyone who has touched more people with that good news. God is, God is love, and there will be a day when we all will be running where the streets have no name.

And Bono, if you’re reading this, I’d love to hang out sometime.
Call me.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Haunted by Hemingway


I love Earnest Hemingway, I see his hunger for God and meaning (ultimately unfulfilled) all over his stuff, and I truly love the way he writes, straightforward and tough. I pick up his work from time to time, especially when I’m in the mood for tragedy.

So here is Chapter VII, from his short stories:
While the bombardment was knocking the trench to pieces at Fossalta, he lay very flat and sweated and prayed oh Jesus Christ get me out of here. Dear Jesus please get me out. Christ please please please Christ. If you’ll only keep me from getting killed I’ll do anything you say. I believe in you and I’ll tell every one in the world that you are the only one that matters. Please please dear Jesus. The shelling moved further up the line. We went to work on the trench and in the morning the sun came up and the day was hot and muggy and cheerful and quiet. The next night back at Mestre he did not tell the girl he went upstairs with at the Villa Rossa about Jesus. And he never told anybody. –Earnest Hemingway, The Short Stories, Chapter VII, pp 143


Would you help me compile a nuanced list of how this lands as tragedy? I started a list, and then thought I’d ask instead…how do you see this as tragic?

Friday, February 27, 2009

Losing my Religion AND Loving God’s Church


I just read another article about how the church is missing it. Last week I read a book about how the church is failing. There are quite a few blogs (in the hundreds of thousands) that carry the same sentiment. (Inhale deeply). Since my Blogs are consistently titled “Killing Churchianity” or “Losing my Religion,” you’d think I’d be thrilled.

But I’m not. In fact, I’m done for a while.
Reading blogs, books, and articles about how the church is missing it, I mean. I’ve had my fill, at least for a bit. Maybe it’s because I’m a Pastor, and I love my church. Wow. There it is. I love my church. I said it out loud. I love my church. It feels like I’ve come out of some kind of theological closet. I LOVE my church.

Now, I don’t love her in a completely unqualified way. I don’t love everything about her. But I’m trying to love her in a completely unconditional way. In other words, I’m trying to love this Bride of Jesus like I imagine Jesus loves his bride.

And maybe that’s really at the core of this. The church is the Bride of Christ. The picture given to us by Scripture is that of a Bride. She’s not perfect. But Jesus himself loves her, Jesus himself is washing her, growing her, perfecting her, and loving her in His gentle, persistent, washing-dirty-feet kind of way.

So. Let’s place it in human terms. If my best friend is getting married, and suddenly: books, blogs, and articles are written about how fat his bride appears, how dumb his bride seems, how irrelevant his bride dresses, or how hypocritical his bride acts…I might find myself in more than a few fist-fights. HE loves her, and that’s really all that matters.

People who are a whole lot smarter than I am (minds I truly respect, and friends I honestly love) are skilled at voicing frustrations with the Church, and attacking with precision her myriad shortcomings. But you would NEVER treat your wife with that kind of disdain. If you did, I’d conclude you hate her.

Maybe your argument is that since we ARE the church, we can be self-critical. And certainly the Apostle Paul is a case study in this (feel free to start in Corinthians and work your way through). But I would argue that if ALL of our self-talk is critical, then we have a problem with self-loathing. And we’ve again missed the heart of Jesus for His bride.

So let’s bring a little love to the discussion.
There is incredible loveliness and victory to be found in the Church, all over this nation, and all over the world. There is noble sacrifice and generosity. There are sincere people struggling toward pure hearts and holy living. As Giglio says, “The Church is KILLING it all over the globe!” There is also a good deal of mess, because the Church is full of messy, broken people. But that’s not the Headline in this fallen world, that’s just the Setting. The REAL story is that Jesus loves her, anyway.

Can I get a witness? Anybody else want to come out of the closet and love their church?

Friday, February 20, 2009

The First shall be Last, or Divine Justice


This week I traveled over to the Big Island with my family. We were set to stay in my Parents time share, plane tics were buddy miles, and we were humbly aware that without the generosity of others we wouldn’t be able to rent a car, enjoy a place, or get fare over to the Island. So when we realized that our plane seats were the very last ones on the plane, you know, the ones that don’t recline right next to the bathrooms, it wasn’t a big shocker to us. We’re just happy to be on the plane.

When we landed, and the plane halted at the gate, the stewardess made an unusual announcement…for some reason, we would de-plane from the rear. Being in the last row, we would be first to set foot on Hawaiian soil. (Cue Monty Python voice: A blessing! A blessing from the Lord!) I thought, amused, this is at least one parable of how sometimes the last shall be first.

As we were all standing in the aisle, waiting for the rear door to be opened, a lady pushed past us. Since we were all holding our carry on bags, the aisle was crowded, and she fairly shoved her way through my family in her haste to get to absolute rear of the plane, so that she would be the first off. Several people that she had pushed past were frowning and grumbling. I tried to give her the benefit of the doubt, like maybe she was late for a heart transplant, or really needed to pee. But, I won’t lie, it was still an exercise in patience for me.

So now, we were no longer going to be first to de-plane, she was. She had shoved herself forward and was now waiting, as we all were, for the plane doors to open.

And then another announcement. It turns out that, for whatever reason, the forward door in the plane would be our exit, after all. I noticed distinctly that smiles lit up on all the faces that this woman had shoved past in her haste to be first off. And now, since she was truly in the very rear, not only would she NOT be first: She would be dead last. It was as if a Hallelujah Choir began singing from the Heavens. God is real, even in the mundane.

The doors then opened, and people began to move towards the exit. But I couldn’t help noticing a leisure-ness about the process. People moved relaxed, languid. It seemed that there was a collective response against the pressure to hurry. The aloha spirit was already in full force. At least, I might have deplaned a bit slower than normal. Mostly to help the lady behind me practice patience.

I’m a pastor. It’s my job.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Blog to My Homies


This “Expert” Blogger is in need of serious assistance! What you are about to read will sound like a complete contradiction in terms, so prepare for paradox. Here goes: Jodie and I have recently begun blogging on a nationwide Christian blog-community site called Conversant Life. You can find them at www.conversantlife.com

They’ve picked me up as a blog “expert” in the realm of belief. I do believe, so I’m not worried necessarily about the “belief” part of it, but it’s the “expert” part that puckers my giblets.

Because it’s a nationwide deal, there are quite a few more folks that are browsing the blogroll daily, so the potential for drawing a crowd and strengthening God’s kingdom is good. However, right now, when you go to my conversant blog, I only have one friend.

So, the person who has never checked out Mike Howerton’s blog before will go there, see his lonely friend, who, by the way, is the administrator of the site, and conclude that I’m a hopeless, no-one-cares-what-he-has-to-say, non-expert. Now, maybe that person will decide that AFTER they have read my blog, and I get it. That’s fair. I just don’t want them to conclude that BEFORE they read anything, just because I’m a cyber-dork with one friend who doesn’t really count because he runs the thing.

Here’s the other perk…you can check out my wife’s witty, fun, touching, poignant blog as well! I am amazed that her posts are so consistently more thoughtful than my own! Become her friend too!

Feel free to leave comments, suggestions, prayers, and thoughts! YOUR two cents is a BIG deal to me! Know how much I THANK you for being in this thing with me…again, it’s all for HIS glory!

Here it is again: www.conversantlife.com

I'm Hosting Saturday Night Live!



Ok, not really. But here is my picture if I ever host SNL. I’m that prepared, in case I get asked.

And here is my wife’s picture. She’s a total and complete hottie. Look at those eyes, for crying out loud!


Just for fun, I’d like to propose an exercise in creativity: IF YOU were hosting SNL, what are the 5 favorite skits that you want to be written into? Since this is pure fantasy, the rules are that you can use any season that you want to, use any SNL cast that you love, and write yourself in however you’d like. Since I’m obviously hosting first, here are mine:

1. In the old John Belushi skit where he flips Cheeseburgers as a Samauri, I’d come into his restaurant and order a taquito.
2. Dana Carvey in Church Lady (of course), and I’d be a Deacon on “her” show.
3. Andy Sandburg in a Digital short, and since Chronic(what?)cles of Narnia is sort of overdone, I’d like to be in the video where he punches people who are trying to eat. I think it’s called “Punching while Eating” or “Follow your Dreams.” I’d like to be in the zombie dance at the end.
4. The one where Natalie Portman brings her boyfriend Jeff home to her uber-weird European parents (“sit in the Hair Chair, by Moby”), and they can’t pronounce his name (“Gwaaarrrrfff?”). I’d be happy to be the younger brother serving yogurt.
5. I’d like to be Lawrence Welk in the recent one hosted by Anne Hathaway, where she and her sisters sing. Kirsten Wiig might be the most amazingly inappropriate singing sister in entertainment history.


There you have it! My top 5! Now it’s time to share yours! So, on this FRIDAY (day before Saturday!) let’s here it! What are your favorites?

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Grace City


This morning I hit the trails with Scout (my shelter-mutt), and just about every part of my body froze. It was oddly beautiful, however, this frosty winter morn, listening to inspiring songs of praise to our vast, creative God, and I forgot my discomfort almost entirely (or simply became numb, I couldn’t tell which).

As I crested a large hill, I ran beside some wide open horse meadows, and suddenly I could see the whole of Seattle in the distance. Downtown standing official and industrious, an emerald skyline, with the Space needle off by itself looking smallish, and rather left out of the party.

And the image that came to my mind was one used by my friend Judd to describe the city he lives in and loves, Las Vegas. Instead of Sin City, Judd refers to Vegas as Grace City. The biblical truth being thus: where sin abounds, grace abounds more. Since most of my body experiencing some form of frostbite at this moment, this image of God’s grace was entirely unexpected.

With the whole of the city spread out before me, I found my heart filled with a crazy love for Seattle, a kind of holistic, Daddy-loves-his-kiddos, emotionally charged love for the people of the most beautiful city I know. And it made me remember again that Jesus loves Seattle. He loves it all. He loves you, Freemont! He loves you, Downtown! He loves you, Kent! He loves you, Mill Creek! He even loves you, Renton! Not only does He love it all, but Jesus came for Seattle.

And as a Pastor, I want to make sure that my ministry is motivated by the same love that Jesus has. Of course, there is sin…it abounds in this fallen city, certainly. But that’s not the final word, nor the amazing part of the story. The final word is grace. The amazing part of the story is that the unlovely is offered unfailing love by a God who is unlimited love.

Today I stand knee-deep in grace.
Today I pray God’s grace on a beautiful city in desperate need of it.
Today I pray grace for you as well.

May His grace find you in an unexpected moment, and may He receive your praise for it.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The JOURNEY is about lives...

I am SO thankful that I get the honor of being a part of a great church. It is an amazing thing to be involved in a movement where God touches hearts, where people experience forgiveness and love, where the truth is actually setting people free. This last weekend was a complete and total party, as we got together and focused wholly on how GOOD God is. We focused on how good his gifts to us are. And we praised God for the gift of Jesus...who came to seek and save lost folks like US! My favorite thing in the whole world is to see, to actually SEE tangibly how God's invasion transforms lives...

So here are a few lives that have been touched by Jesus. It's a short video, but the good news is that it's entirely true. These men and women aren't perfect...none of us are. But each life here has been invaded and changed by a loving Savior named Jesus...the journey is about lives.

And Jesus is crazy about the life called YOU.


Cardboard Testimonies from Overlake Christian Church on Vimeo.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Scout


There are so many lessons about our spiritual lives that can be mined from pet ownership.
Here is the truth about the dog I adopted from the local shelter.

His whole life nobody had wanted him, nor claimed him to love.
He is overweight.
Scout has chewed a hole in his tail, and it sort of stinks.
At the vet yesterday, they hooked him up with a cone that prevents him from chewing his tail, and it makes him look like a canine version of Little Bo Peep. Plus they shaved his tail, so he looks slightly like a giant black rat. With a bonnet. And the medicine stings when it’s applied to the wound.

Here is the point: unloved and unlovely. And my family has claimed him. And we love him so much that our hearts hurt a bit at his obvious discomfort and loss of dignity. So we’re doing all we can to help him heal as quickly as possible. Even if it stings.

God has seen us unloved and unlovely. And He has claimed US. And his Heart is moved at our obvious brokenness. So God works in us individually and personally, to help us heal as quickly as possible. And it might sting.

The point is, God is the true Skillful and Loving master. My prayer is that you allow Him to touch you with His healing love today. Because HE loves you. Really.

Even more than we love our stinking rat dog.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The Cost of LOVE

I just wanted to share a little video love from Sunday...
This is what you call a bucket o' love.
Bottom line: Love ya!
Can't wait to see you at OCC this weekend for a LOVE celebration!



Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Temptation


I think it was W.C. Fields who once said, “I can resist anything but temptation.” Since the dawn of time, that seems to be the irresistible lure. Certainly, as a parent and dog-owner (yes, I just placed those two roles in the same category…I live in Seattle) I see ample examples of my children (and my dog) wrestling with temptation. So far, I’m working in the realm of “given,” no arguments here. It goes without saying, I also see how I struggle with temptation myself.

The other night, Jodie and Caleb were having a mommy date, and they had decided to curl up with some popcorn and watch the deeply theological movie, Back to the Future. But Jodie needed to do a quick store run first. So before she left, she made Caleb PROMISE not to start the movie until she got back. Which he did in wide-eyed faith. Five minutes after she left, Caleb and I are in full blown wrestle-mode, pictures rattling on the walls, and in a panting moment of stillness I throw out the question, “Hey Bud, you wanna start the movie now?”

A heartbeat of silence. Then Caleb yells, “NO!!!” I say, ok, ok, settle down. I just thought I’d throw a little temptation your way. And he smiles, “DAD, I’m not like Adam and Eve.”

Oh, buddy.
In the first, unfortunate, place, we all are in many respects JUST like Adam and Eve.
In the second, delightful, place, this is the reason Jesus came. To forgive us when we stumble, to clean us up, and to set us into a right relationship with God. This is the reason Jesus is called Savior. We find ourselves in the embarrassing position of needing to be saved.

Lord, if you kept a record of our sins, who, O Lord, could ever survive? But you offer forgiveness, that we might learn to fear you. Psalm 130:3,4 NLT

Because it turns out it’s true…we can resist anything but temptation.

What the Holistic Practical Stewardship?


For the last 5 weeks we’ve been nailing the idea that there is an exciting, dynamic and dangerous road of faith we can all walk, a road that allows us to see the radical provision and blessing of God. It is the Steward’s road. Since the only Steward in recent cinematic history is the Steward of Gondor, and since he falls off a cliff in a flaming bundle of insanity, there’s a reason why the term Steward has some questions around it. So for the last 5 weeks we’ve been unpacking these questions and this lifestyle at OCC…

We’ve also been providing TOOLS for folks to approach their whole life as God’s steward. This Sunday EVE, from 4-6pm, we offer yet one more tool. Stewardship EXPERT (and I mean that literally) John Frank will be at OCC, teaching a Seminar on Holistic Practical Stewardship. That means how to practically look at all of your life and make good value decisions on how to spend your time, how to use your talents, and how to employ your treasure for God’s glory.

We want to make sure we’re being as “rubber-meets-the-road” as possible in this challenge! Please plan on coming this Sunday (Feb 8th) and join John Frank and myself for some real and practical ways to make value decisions.

By the WAY, Sunday’s Services will be a CELEBRATION of the kind of blessing God has for those who pursue faithful stewardship! Bring some friends and party with us at OCC: 9:20, 11am, or 6pm! Rock on!!

Monday, February 2, 2009

Unconditional Surrender


As a dude who speaks every Sunday, about topics spanning the spectrum from sex to Jesus, there are days when I wake up and realize what I should have said. Or what I wanted to say. Or I’ll find someone who said what I was trying to say so much better than I actually said it. So here is a quote from a really old British guy, whom I think is brilliant. His name is John Stott, sometimes referred to as the protestant pope, and on the issue of surrender writes:

“Our attitude to our fallen nature should be one of ruthless repudiation. For ‘those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires’ (Galatians 5:24). That is, we have taken this evil, slimy, slippery thing called ‘the flesh’ and nailed it to the cross. This was our initial repentance. Crucifixion is dramatic imagery for our uncompromising rejection of all known evil. Crucifixion does not lead to a quick or easy death; it is an execution of lingering pain. Yet it is decisive; there is no possibility of escaping from it.
“Our attitude to the Holy Spirit, on the other hand, is to be one of unconditional surrender. Paul uses several expressions for this. We are to ‘live by the Spirit’, to be ‘led by the Spirit’ and to ‘keep in step with the Spirit (Galatians 5:16,18,25). That is, we are to allow him his rightful sovereignty over us, and follow his righteous promptings.
“Thus both our repudiation of the flesh and our surrender to the Spirit need to be repeated daily…” (John Stott, Authentic Christianity, pp 83)

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Head. Feels. Stuffed.


The average human head weighs eight pounds. At least that’s what the kid said on Jerry Maguire.

Right now mine weighs about 37 pounds.

I feel like a bobble-head version of myself.

There are other descriptors that I might use, but honestly, they’d put you off your lunch. And who wants to hear another whine about “I’ve got a cold in Seattle?” A better question is, “Who DOESN’T have a cold in Seattle?” I thought that was one of the selling points of the Northwest. Constant nose drippage and Dayquil on tap.

So it may surprise you, (it certainly surprises me) that I’m choosing joy today.
As in, “This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.” I’m taking a few moments this morning and rejoicing over all the wonderful things that I can identify as a blessing. I love my wife, I love my family, I love my church, and I love my life. All these are gifts graciously given from the hand of a Loving Father.

I don’t know where you are today, nor what you’re struggling with.
But Jesus does. And He loves you.

And if you spend a few minutes to look, you’ll find that the evidence of His love is all around you. This is another one of His gifts, this day.
Let’s be glad in it together.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Grandparents

Last week I traveled to Oklahoma to do my Grandma’s funeral. It reminded me of the Summer a few years ago when I still had three grandparents. Now I have none. The grief this time around feels hollow, like I’m losing a bit of my mooring to history. So I’d like to share this bit about my grandparents. Maybe it will encourage you to call yours…drop them a line…or just to thank Jesus for the gift of a couple of people in the world who love you unconditionally…who spoiled you every chance they got. Enjoy them. They won’t be around forever…


My Lord Jesus,

I’m in tears today as I write, having just come from the hospital.

I visited my grandma today, and just “visited” as my grandma and grandpa shared their lunch. They are so beautiful.

So beautiful.

My grandma with her thin skin, her shaky hands, her words that stumble over a mini-stroke she had a few years back, and her gentle brown eyes amplified by her coke-bottle glasses I’ve never known her to be without. Wearing those, a visual world is opened up to this wonderful lady, Ellen Soft, my grandma and one of my favorite people on the planet. Beautiful.

And if that isn’t beautiful enough, there’s my grandpa too, mouse-like thin and hunched, with strong brown hands bent with years of a painters trade; his hair white, well oiled and combed the same way I’ve seen it all of my life; his smile quick, with dentures that mostly stay where their supposed to. So beautiful.

A myriad of wrinkles between them.

And as they share a meal, slow, slower than most people retain interest in a meal, they forget that they are sharing a meal, and instead share memories. Today they shared how my grandma was sleepwalking during her recent visit back to Kansas, so now when she gets up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom, my granddad goes with her. Making sure she stays indoors.

What amazes me is how well they know each other. They both traverse across the years to share stories that the other knows exactly…they track to the year, the situation, the significance…with just a few words.

I was telling them how Alex kicks the covers off in bed, and my grandma said, “Well, Nancy and Janet used to come in bed with us…Chester, what did Nancy say that one time?” To which my grandpa replies, “Oh, shoot.” Which is just a filler statement, and all he needs to get a handle on the framework of the story. He then tells the tale of a Christmas past, of how he had purchased a wrist-watch for Ellen, no doubt a major purchase for this humble painter. The gift was wrapped and under the tree, waiting impatiently for Christmas morn, as were two little girls, both very excited about this gift. And as they were all in bed one morning, my grandma asked, with honest intent, “I wonder what time it is?” Quick as she could, a giggling Nancy replied, “If you look under the tree you’ll know what time it is!”

At the punchline of the story both of them erupt in laughter, and I laugh right along, because they are just so dang beautiful.

They are the salt of the earth.

The righteous poor.

My grandparents lost their first boy, Jackie, when he was five, and it seems that this devastation haunts them mildly, like the smallest of pebbles rattling in the toe of a walking shoe. They have such great memories of this joy-filled, amazing boy, and a true confusion about the illness that stole his life, that most days, I’m sure, Jackie makes his way into their waking thoughts.

They discussed the assisted living home that my mother had taken them to, in hushed tones…it’s just so big…a mansion…it does have a big room to watch Monday Night Football in (grandpa grinning)…two meals a day and you order right from a menu…not just a cafeteria…a reading area and sitting room to have people over. But it’s just so nice! Rich people live there. It would probably cost more than two thousand dollars a month, and we just couldn’t let your Dad pay…we don’t deserve…surely we couldn’t…

What these humble, beautiful people don’t realize is that they deserve the best there is. They will probably be embarrassed to discover, on that day when the Lord calls them home, that the largest Mansion on the top of the hill is theirs, bought and paid for far in advance by their Christian kindness, painted and maintained by those hundreds my grandparents served in this lifetime, visited daily by their friends, robust and dear, and by their beloved Jackie. The joy that they will dwell in for eternity the best of our writers can only hint at.

“I thank God everyday for my family,” my grandpa said today.

So do I grandpa. So do I.
For my beautiful, beautiful family.