Saturday, November 29, 2014

Welcome Kaylee Becker

Here she is. Kaylee Joan Becker. Weighed in at 6 lbs 3 ozs and born October 28th 2014. I like birthdays in multiples of seven—helps me remember. Jan’s birthday is October 21 and Kaylee’s is 7 days later. She’s grandchild number five. We are thrilled with her arrival and thank God for her life. Kaylee’s mom and dad Katie and Kyle are learning to sleep less and prioritize their time more. Katie, our daughter, had to go back to running her dance studio when an employee abruptly quit for family reasons (legitimate family reasons I might add!). It’s put a strain on an already tough situation. But we are proud of them both and most of all, we are proud of beautiful Kaylee. The name means pure and she’s a gift from God to all of us.

The Philly Marathon, Life, and Ministry

The long wait is over. After five years, I’ve returned to sub-three hour marathons, something that was, at one time, so predictable I didn’t even think about it. What a reality check! Injuries, age, and circumstance (heat, hills, and food poisoning to be specific) beat me to the finish line on more than one occasion. But on a cool day (it was 41 and partially cloudy at the start) on November 23, 2014 we did it. I mean “we” because Jan and some family friends, Dan and Mary Beth Wilkinson, were all part of it. The time 2:58:10 was better than I anticipated and sold me on the new training method I’ve been using. I’ll save an explanation of that for another post.

“Why would you do that?” people have asked. “I mean really?! Why go out and run like that or train like that? It seems a bit extreme.” I suppose it is extreme—like surfing in the winter is extreme and rock climbing is extreme, etc. But its more than just an addiction to extreme sports. To me, running marathons is like life. And to be specific, its like the Christian life. People in our culture don’t train for life, and consequently, we don’t stick it out when tough times come, etc. We give up on marriages, on relationships, on jobs, and other things way too easy. Dan captured some of my thinking on this in a coffee shop downtown the day before the race. Check it out.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Losing Weight--Again!

I’m losing weight, again. An elbow injury is keeping me from lifting weights, my schedule is keeping me from physical therapy that would put me on the path to elbow recovery, and my marathon training is cranking up the mileage and I’m burning thousands of calories at a time (Last Saturday I estimate that I burned 2200 calories in three hours). I’m having a hard time replenishing. I’m so busy I just don’t eat enough. One lady at church looked at me Sunday and said, “When you get back here, I’m going to fatten you up!” Hmmm. For what?

So I’m going on a see food diet. If I “see food” I’m going to eat it. I’m also going to put fasting on hold—something I did for a number of weeks. (I’d preached on it so decided to practice it leading to the inevitable loss of even more weight)

Here’s the plan: I’m going to eat smaller meals more often, and get physical therapy to get healed up so I can start to lift weights again. But the challenge to keep weight on when in serious training for marathons is really interesting. In High School and College I competed as a wrestler where I had to lose roughly fifteen pounds to make weight. The struggle to keep the weight off was sometimes brutally painful. I remember stepping on a scale once and weighing 140 lbs. I had to cut down to 118. The fear of losing 22 lbs in a short amount of time put me immediately on a diet. Now, I can’t keep weight on for the life of me. Not sure why. Wrestling practice in college was twice a day and was considerably more difficult than what I’m doing to train for marathons. I don't get it! 

Oops. Got to go. Time to eat. And for those of you who read this post and struggle to take weight off? Please don't hate me. When people don't like me, I lose weight.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Exercise--the West's New Religion

In the front of his book, The Reason for God, Tim Keller notes that both orthodox Christianity and Secular irreligion (Atheism in some cases) are gaining footholds around the world. This sets us up for a philosophical and political clash of the Titans which we experience in a variety of ways. What I never expected, however, was to experience it in exercise.

Behold, the new religion of exercise. This religion has all the makings of a cult with its stringent orthodoxy (training with sledge hammers and tires), its well spoken advocates (coaches and workout instructors), and its more than willing participants (normally younger men and women). This is of interest to me since in the past ten years of my life I’ve dabbled in the extreme sport of marathon running. Now it would appear that training for marathons, and even running them, is really no longer extreme. It’s something people do to check off their “bucket list.” However, the new paradigm of exercise has taken things to another level. It’s not conditioning to accomplish a sport but conditioning for conditionings sake and often in the most extreme fashion. What is valued is the exercise for exercise itself. Instead of preparing us for some athletic competition, it drives the one exercising to what is ultimate, provides protection for a future apocalypse, and seeks to provide answers to life’s real meaning

New York Times writer, Heather Havrilesky,

our new religion has more than a little in common with the religions that brought our ancestors to America in the first place. Like the idealists and extremists who founded this country, the modern zealots of exercise turn their backs on the indulgences of our culture, seeking solace in self-abnegation and suffering. ‘This is the route to a better life,’ they tell us, gesturing at their sledgehammers and their kettlebells, their military drills and their dramatic re-enactments of hard labor. And in these uncertain times, it doesn’t sound so bad to be prepared for some coming disaster — or even for an actual job doing hard labor, if our empire ever falls.

It makes sense that for those segments of humanity who aren’t fighting for survival every day of their lives, the new definition of fulfillment is feeling as if you’re about to die. Maybe that’s the point. If we aren’t lugging five gallons of water back from a well 10 miles away or slamming a hammer into a mountainside, something feels as if it’s missing. Who wants to sit alone at a desk all day, then work out alone on a machine? Why can’t we suffer and sweat together, as a group, in a way that feels meaningful? Why can’t someone yell at us while we do it? For the privileged, maybe the most grueling path seems the most likely to lead to divinity. When I run on Sunday mornings, I pass seven packed, bustling fitness boutiques, and five nearly empty churches.” 

Did you get that? People rather suffer the extreme pain of “hard labor physical fitness” than the emptiness of religiousity. Very interesting. Truthfully, I agree with them. Churches are empty for a reason and exercise boutiques are full of people for a reason. Maybe we should consider why. After all, while exercise may prolong your life, it never promises to save your soul. If anything, it delays the inevitable. So why are churches so empty and exercise facilities so full? Maybe its because churches have lost their way, like everyone else, and haven’t figured it out yet. Check out the article. It will be worth a read.{%221%22%3A%22RI%3A8%22}

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Leaf Blower from Hell (or Heaven)

It happened last Sunday (Sept 7). I was preaching, which is normal for me on a Sunday, and just as I was heading into the punch lines of my sermon, it started: the leaf blower from hell.

I don’t know what possessed the guy to turn it on at that time, right next to a church—on a hot day with the windows open—but he did. If you do any public speaking, you know when you have most people’s attention. In this case, while not everyone was locked in on my biblical exposition, I had most of them in spite of just explaining a very difficult concept. But when the leaf blower started, people were looking towards the windows, and glancing around at each other with curious looks on their faces.

I immediately got flustered and started sweating. I sweat very little so when I sweat, I’m uptight. It was so annoying I lost my place in my notes, couldn’t think straight, and essentially read the rest of the sermon directly from the notes so it would at least make sense to those who could actually hear it, or who tried to pay attention despite the distraction.

It was irritating to say the least. What was more irritating to me later was why I let it irritate me to begin with. Psalm 119:165 says, “Great peace (rest) have they who love your law, and nothing can make them stumble.” Clearly, my rest is not found in God’s providential work of leaf blowing. While I doubt very much that the person blowing leaves was antagonistic towards us as a Christian church, he or she was clearly used by God to teach me a lesson. Rest and peace is not found in a tranquil environment where I get my way all the time. It's found in the middle of God’s will. Humorously, last Sunday, that included a disruption in the middle of a sermon with a leaf blower. Why not laugh about it? Why not rest in Him in the midst of it? I choose to do so. So next Sunday Mr. Leaf Blower, bring it on!

The gospel says that its not how people respond to my preaching that makes me loved in Gods eyes but Gods dealing with the real issues in my life—my sin, my depravity, and the radical self-centeredness of my heart. So Mr. Leaf Blower, I invite you back (should you read this blog)—this time come to church (and leave your leaf blower outside) but should you turn that noisy thing on again, I’ll preach, laugh, and rest in Gods presence and not in whether or not I’m popular because I preached well.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Human Stain--A Review

I just finished reading the novel The Human Stain by Philip Roth. The novel is set in a quaint New England college town, in Vermont. The story is intriguing in that it is framed in the late 90’s just following the President Clinton, Monica Lewinsky scandal and is told as if written by the writer Nathan Zuckerman. The plot is exceptional. There are more twists and turns in this novel than one could imagine. Roth is an excellent social critic. No one seems to escape his eye, especially the those in the tolerance movement.

Here is a short summary of what happens (Warning—I’m going to expose one major theme of the book so if you don’t want to lose the intrigue, stop reading this blog now). The distinguished and brilliant classics professor Coleman Silk offends some African American students, in his class by referring to them as spooks, as ghosts, since they’d never attended his lectures. The students got wind of it and charged him with racism. It’s a bogus charge, and one many on the faculty saw as such, but he ended up losing his job and his wife, over the whole affair. The book is built around that event and his reaction to it. What comes out, as the plot unfolds, is that everyone of the main characters has a secret. A secret so deep, and in some cases, so profoundly disturbing, that it acts like a stain on their humanity. It colors their perception of reality and yet also defines them. Roth’s secret is he’s African American himself. The term spooks couldn’t have possibly been used in a racially charged way. But no one ever finds out—except  Nathan Zuckerman.  

Roth, describing the stain through the lens of one of the characters says this, “The human stain…we leave a stain, we leave a trail, we leave our imprint. Impurity, cruelty, abuse, error, … there’s no other way to be here. Nothing to do with disobedience. Nothing to do with grace or salvation or redemption. It’s in everyone. Indwelling. Inherent. Defining. The stain that is there before its mark. The stain that proceeds disobedience and perplexes all explanation and understanding. It’s why all the cleansing is a joke…its inescapable.”(pg. 242)

I won’t take time to unpack the book. It is not an easy book to digest. I went on line after reading it to see what others had to say and one critic suggested that this was the kind of book that should be read by High School students. I don’t think so. It was pretty graphic at times but the critic was right in one regard. Everyone should understand that there truly is a human stain, and that stain, whether we are completely aware of it or not, is inescapable. You can’t get away from it. You can try to conceal it, but it won’t go away.

The question then becomes, how can it be dealt with? Roth offers no answer. The book is a description of human depravity and how that is used to hurt others and how that eventually hurts us. It’s thought provoking, I’ll say that. As a Christian, there is really only one answer—Jesus Christ. But there are a lot of people unwilling to consider that with all its ramifications.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

A Confession about Confession

I’ll confess, confessing is hard. But I was struck by the recent confession of a well known Christian leader. The scenario is all too familiar. The leader, a male, was involved in a number of inappropriate relationships with younger females. Just stating it like that makes it seem sterile and impersonal. The women involved were often young or naïve when the activity was occuring, or weren’t heard when they voiced complaints, or they just didn’t know what to do with it all, but then discovered or created a web-site to air their concerns. In this case, the nationally known leader was removed from his position and sent out a letter confessing his sin and asking forgiveness. The confession went something like this, “I admit that I was involved in holding hands, touching feet, and hair and blah blah blah. Etc etc etc.”

That another man fell into sin as a result of sexual impropriety doesn’t surprise me. It sobers me. It makes me afraid that I’ll do the same thing someday, maybe without even being sensitive to it. Certainly these guys are smart, well educated, and often spiritually sensitive men, at least at some point in their lives. But something happens. Frankly, its not the purpose of this post to suggest possibilities. What I want to simply note is the content of the confession.

Confession is more than simply stating the facts. It’s acknowledged remorse and regret not for the inconvenience of the act or the humiliation of the act but for the ugliness and downright evil of the act itself. Confession doesn’t say, “Well, I held hands and touched feet and hair but it wasn’t sexual.” Baloney! Who’s he trying to kid? Confession would say, “While my actions didn’t include intercourse, they included many activities that were sexual in nature and thus damaging to the women involved as well as to my ministry. Furthrmore, the fact that I didn’t see that reality, while involving myself in those activities, is as great a cause for alarm as the activities themselves. I’m getting help and have sought to reconcile with all involved. I am deeply ashamed of my insensitivity and behavior and will step aside indefinitely so that I am no longer a hinderance to the work of God.” That’s confession.

So, in short, confession isn’t “I made a mistake” or “I goofed” or “I did this or that but it wasn’t really that bad” or “I took the money but really didn’t steal it” or “I mistated the facts but it wasn’t intended to be a lie.” Confession owns up to what was done wrong within tactfully appropriate bounds. It’s that simple and that straight forward. May God help us all to become more sensitive to our actions. But when we do fail, may God help us to actually admit it, and confess it, rather than explain it away.

Boston Strong

I participated in the 118th running of the Boston Marathon last Monday (April 21). Last year I dropped out due to injury and was sitting in a restaurant with Jan and family friends when news of the bombing interrupted our meal. We got up, paid what we owed, dropped our friends off at the airport so that they could head back to Seattle, and drove as fast as we could out of the city. There was nothing we could do. But having experienced 9/11 first hand I knew that if we didn’t leave quick, we probably wouldn’t be leaving at all, at least not for while. The pictures of the bombings horror are now enshrined in our national memory. It was a sad day in American history.

But this year was different. This was marathon number eighteen for me. I’ve run in Athens, Greece and done New York City five times and I’ve not experienced anything like this. For one, my qualifying time of 3:05 put me in the last third of the first of four waves and in coral seven. Usually that time will put you way up towards the front. This year, just to get into the first wave, you had to run a 3:12 marathon. That's pretty quick for most people.

Second, the race and logistics was the best I’ve ever seen. It ran like clock work. The transportation logistics alone were astronomical.

Third, this was the most secure race I’ve ever run in. Between miles 23-26 I saw clothed police officers roughly 25 yards apart, all facing the crowd who screamed at levels I’ve not heard ever. The Wellesley girls seemed muted this year in comparison.

I ran a 3:11—not the fastest time in the world and certainly not what I wanted. I only trained, again due to injury, roughly two months for this race. My legs were on the verge of cramping from mile 17 on but they didn’t. In the end, it was one of the smartest races I’ve run as I didn’t have the conditioning to run like I’d have liked so when I got close to cramping, I just slowed down and had fun. What an experience. I hope to it run again next year—God willing.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

You Look Radiant

No one’s ever said that to me. “Dave, you look, well—just radiant! I mean really. Today you are radiant.” I think people have said it to my wife. Not me. Not that I can remember.

But the adventure of marriage—and probably any good friendship—is to end up with that. Again, I can’t help but view this through the lens of my Christian worldview. I realize that I’m tainted, but in St. Paul’s letter to the people who lived in Ephesus he describes what a marriage relationship can look like. After commanding people to “submit to one another” he describes what that would look like in a Christian marriage (Paul isn’t applying this to those who are not Christians). The husband is to love his wife sacrificially as Christ loved the church and the wife is to respectfully submit; that is, to put herself under her husbands mission to love her that way. When he doesn’t love her like that, she’s obligated to say something. That’s my take on it. That’s the way I read it. Maybe I’m wrong but I don’t think so.

So true submission, in my opinion, can look more like conflict, than the door mat style submission I’ve run across on some occasions in religious circles. When husbands just check out or don’t care or do things that create anxiety or fear or hurt in the life of a wife, or when wives show disdain, contempt, or scorn for their husbands, nobody’s looking radiant. And there’s a lot of that going on behind the closed doors of a home and the frequent, outward attempts at the facade of marital health and bliss are at best deceitful. Both men and women are very good at keeping stuff hidden. There’s a lot of ways to lie and most of us are good at all of them.

The ultimate goal of this respect giving, loving, submissive behavior is radiance. I think this means that ultimately, both partners seek to present the other radiant before God. I don’t see why a wife can’t do the same thing for a husband. That is exhilarating! So we have marriage, the adventure. Marriage, the epic (as one person has said)! Marriage, the quest, the journey, the voyage! The goal: to love the other well, so well that you present him and her radiant before God and others. Frankly, I want to do that for my friends and relatives as well.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The VooDoo Onion

I went down hard. My right foot rolled right, my body fell left. I nearly did a face plant on the pavement. It had rained all night, and a pile of silt had collected over a pot hole. It didn’t matter how fast I was running, I would have gone down even if I was walking! I was on mile 12 ½ of a 17.3 mile speed run in preparation for the Boston marathon. It was clear I wasn’t going to run anymore that day, and it was almost a five mile walk home. However, as providence would have it, I was ¼ mile from the home of my trusted friend Lou, the Greek. Though it was only 7:15 a.m. I hobbled to his home, woke he and his wife up (They’d been out dancing and had gotten home at 4:00 a.m.), and asked to use their phone. “Forget the phone,” he said, “I’ll drive you home.”

Lou immediately set out to fix the ankle. Actually, all I wanted was a phone or a ride but Lou insisted. “We’re doing VooDoo,” he sang while dancing in the kitchen as he cut up, of all things, an onion. He then put it in saran wrap and placed the raw onion on my ankle and the saran wrap around the onion and ankle. “Shouldn’t we put ice on it?” I protested. “Not yet,” responded Lou. “So is this some kind of Greek thing?” I asked (Lou is Greek and if you know any Greeks you’ll know why I asked the question). “No,” he said, “It’s a soccer thing and I’ve used it myself. Works every time.” Apparently there is something about the onion that limits the swelling and immediately begins the healing process. Lou had stolen the idea from some soccer players who had used this remedy regularly. After two hours I switched to ice then Advil, ice, Advil, ice, Advil for the rest of the day. 

It’s been several days now and the ankle hardly swelled up. I ran a hard 6 miles last night—a little more than 2 ½ days after injuring it—and then another 9.8 miles this morning. No pain. No problem. VooDoo or just good home cooking, I don’t know, but try it. You have to chop the onion up into little pieces, and apply it directly on the affected area soon after the injury is sustained for it to be effective. The saran wrap simply keeps the raw onion pieces on the injured body part. It works. Hope you don’t have to use it but if you do, try it. And you can even use the onion in a stew afterwards! Who knew?

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Friendship, Romance, Marriage, and the Journey of Love

Romance. It’s what drives American movies. It captures the heart of our western minds. We want romance. We want to be desired by a significant other. We want to be pursued. We want to feel “in love.” Traditional societies don’t work like that. I recently spoke to a friend of mine, a missionary in Africa, about the traditional culture he serves. “They don’t have any concept of romance as Americans would understand it,” he said,  “‘Why would you want that?’ they wonder! Love to them is utilitarian. You marry to get work done and have children. You don’t marry for romance. It doesn’t make any sense to them.” It caught my attention.

In December my wife had a heart issue that sent her to the hospital in an ambulance with difficulty breathing. She’d nearly passed out on her job. Her speech was slurred. Her blood pressure was super high, and her heart was racing. I received the frantic call, with that description as I remember it, from my oldest daughter while sitting in an airport, of all places. (One of these days I’m going to make a post of airplane/airport stories) The point of the call was pretty clear. “Dad, this may be the end.” My first thought was, “Oh, no. What I feared, is happening to me. It’s happened to one of my friends. Now its happening to me. What will I do?” That’s a totally selfish response, I’ll admit it. I thought I was going to be single again, and it wasn’t pleasant. Very dark. Fortunately I got a grip on myself and started thinking rationally. Reactivity is never helpful. It wasn’t a false alarm because there really are issues and, at this posting, we still don’t know what they are. But Jan is very much alive and has been allowed to cross country ski, etc. so it can’t be all that big a deal—we hope. One of my life long friends wasn’t so fortunate!  

It’s been on my mind ever since and made me ponder marriage, lean into Jan, and appreciate the gift of life. So while I actually try to fuel the emotional side of our relationship (I really do, believe it or not), it’s not really romance in the sense that western people seek romance. It’s the romance of choice. It’s rooted in more than a feeling but definitely involves wonder and emotion. It’s the choice to love another person really really well over the long haul. After years of marriage, while the romantic and emotive side of things is still a reality, it’s tempered by reality, familiarity, and sometimes fatigue. Let’s face it, its exhilarating but exhausting to operate on a romantic kind of emotional level for a long long time especially when there are children involved. Loving well doesn’t have to be romantic—I want to love lots of people well and I don’t want it to be romantic with them all—which is probably a good thing. But I do want to nurture the emotive side of my marriage relationship.

I think Christianity actually lends itself to that. Here’s why: Christianity uses the joy of a wedding to describe the consummation of the relationship between Christ and the church—the bride groom and the bride—at the end of the age as we know it. It’s the start of something really really good that gets increasingly better over time. Weddings are romantic. Everything is so fresh, so alive, so full of joy and future hope and love and emotion and fun and the expectation of fulfilled desire, etc. Now that’s romance! So marriage, and frankly all of life, lived under the Christian gospel actually points to what romance is and what it can be; the celebration of a life that flourishes over the long haul as it should. Furthermore, marriage lived under this gospel, will be full of grace, forbearance, and forgiveness, all of which lends itself to romance. It’s life giving to have someone say with total sincerity, “Hey, you screwed up but that’s okay. I mess up to and I love you anyway.” That can be said in a cheesy, or even false, way which stifles romance, friendship and love, but when said with integrity, it does something to someone. It’s life giving, which leads to deep emotional attachment.

Furthermore, marriage as it’s supposed to be, points to what our relationship with God is supposed to be. I believe that this theology lived out, over the long haul, can feed romance in a marriage because marriage is a pointer to God. So while we are far from perfect, it tells us that there’s a lot more to come and motivates me to discover it, to pursue it, to seek the wonder of it all at all costs in the life of my spouse. So while the freshness of new love may be absent after ten or twenty or thirty years of marriage, the challenge to love deeply, and plumb the depths of another person’s soul can always be fresh to the brave soul who wants that kind of joy. It will take a little work, and creativity, but it can happen. And, that is motivated by the future reality of Christ’s kingdom—the ultimate marriage. It’s thought provoking.

Here’s some things to create romance in a marriage. This will also work on the development of deep friendships that need not have all the bells and whistles of a marriage:

1. Look for the fresh and the new. To plumb the depths of another person’s soul and personality will always be new. There’s just too much there. Look for it. 

2. Be others absorbed, not self absorbed. This means you treat “the other” as primary, not secondary, in your life.

3. Laugh a lot. Look for the humor in the relationship and celebrate it. 

4. Be generous with praise and gratitude. No one likes to be critisized all the time. There’s not a person on the planet who is perfect or doesn’t struggle with things. Overlook it. Be forbearing and forgiving. 

5. Celebrate the past but look forward to, and plan for, the future. You can’t live in the past but you can celebrate the joy and beauty of the past! My experience is that when people just live in the past, its like an anchor around their present and future relationships. 

6. Own your stuff. Be aware of your issues and work on them. Quit blaming your stuff on others. Really! Stop it. It will kill a marriage or a friendship.

7. Get creative and try to surprise people. I’ve been able to do this over the course of my marriage and frankly, even as a young man I did it in dating relationships and even just ordinary friendships. Planning surprise outings, vacations, and get togethers that are creative is a lot of fun and builds deeply into a friendship. For the life of me, I don’t know why people don’t do this more. 

8. Keep your promises. If you say, “Hey, I’ll call you.” Then call. If you promise to do work around the house, do it. Integrity goes a long way towards building a marriage and a friendship.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Light Princess and Other Stories--A Review

I just finished reading George MacDonald’s book, The Light Princess and Other Stories. MacDonald was a 19th century pastor who got himself in trouble because he didn’t believe in hell. He became an inspiration for other well known authors such as Tolkien and CS Lewis. The Light Princess is a classic children’s book but the story is anything but childish.

A King and a Queen have a child, a beautiful baby girl. But the King, busy in the work of running the kingdom, forgot to invite his sister to the child’s christening. Enraged, the sister—who is also a witch—shows up anyway and casts a spell on the child which causes her to lose her sense of gravity. She simply floats. MacDonald paints the picture of life without gravity in the most humorous of terms. But the story line becomes more focused when as a beautiful young teenager, the princess discovers the only place she feels truly at home, a place where she has gravity, is when she’s in the water swimming. The family castle is built on a beautiful lake which the princess swims in constantly. She loves the lake more than anything else—it brings her back to earth. It makes her heart sing. She is normal in the lake. Soon a young prince emerges on the scene and falls deeply in love with the princess. He is overwhelmed with love and spends a great deal of time in the lake swimming with his beloved ‘light princess.’ MacDonald paints the picture of the love between the two in interesting terms. The princess is not nearly as interested in the prince, as he is in her, but that is what sets up the rest of the story and in the end, drives the author’s point home.

The story takes a sinister twist when the evil aunt is enraged that her revenge on the King and his family is being undermined by the lake, so in another fit of anger she casts a spell on the lake and it dries up. The princess is beside herself. The one thing that brought her life has now been taken away. In grief, she locks herself in her room and becomes despondent. The king sent envoys into the remaining parts of the lake to discover why it was disappearing and discovered, to their dismay, a gold plate at the bottom of the now shriveled lake with this inscription on it, “Death alone from death can save. Love is death, and so is brave. Love can fill the deepest grave. Love loves on beneath the waves.” This enigmatic statement was explained on the reverse side of the plate, “If the lake should disappear, they must find the hole through which the water ran. But it would be useless to stop it. There was one effectual mode—the body of a living man could stanch the flow. This man must give himself of his own will; and the lake must take his life as it filled. Otherwise the offering would be to no avail.”

As one would expect in a book like this, the prince found out and wondered if he should be the one to give his life on behalf of the princess. He visited a hermit for counsel before making his decision. His choice is cast in these terms, “She will die if I do not do it, and life would be nothing to me without her.” He chose to be the voluntary sacrifice. He simply made one condition, to have the princess be with him as he filled the hole and drowned. The princess indeed was with him, she fed him, she kissed him, but did so without feeling. However, as the water grew closer and closer to the prince, she came to love him more and more. When it went over his head, she could bear it no more. Shrieking, she jumped into the water, pulled him out of the water. Rushing him to the house they set about the impossible task of reviving him. Struck by grief, the light princess began to cry. She wept with such intensity that she created a flood of tears, she was wet with tears. She discovered that her true joy wasn’t in the lake, or even in having gravity, but in the one who gave his life so that she might be grounded. So it was that as she cried, he regained his breath and she her gravity and they lived happily ever after.

The spiritual background of this story should not be ignored. MacDonald used the story to describe the atonement found in the pages of the Old and New Testaments. Christ willingly and selflessly sacrifices his life for those who are selfish and self absorbed. When one comes to grips with the cost and love of Christ, he becomes our beloved as we are his. We repent of our sin and receive his love. It's a great story and since its rooted in history, its more than a fairy tale. Think about it.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

A Wedding Letter to My Daughter

I ran across this letter to my oldest daughter written just before she was married and thought it was worth posting. Here's a picture of the kids in 2006. Laurel is on the left. She now has two daughters. (Lyndi is in the middle, Katie on the right)

July 5, 2006

Dear Laurel,

I’ve thought about this letter for quite some time, knowing full well I’d eventually write it but not having a clue what to say.

Life is full of firsts and you have certainly had your share in our family.  You were first born, first in school, first to get a job, first to graduate, first to go to College and now, here again, you are first to be married.  

I was reading a book on the plane today called Velvet Elvis.  It’s written by Rob Bell, the guy who is the lead pastor of Mars Hill Church in Grand Rapids, the church Katie goes to when she’s at school.  In the book he notes that through out life there are extraordinary experiences that point to something greater than us.  Those experiences become sacred space, places we want to take our shoes off and say, “This is holy ground I’m standing on!”  It’s a sacred place.  

Over the course of my life I can think of some of those sacred places, those experiences that have caused me to pause and ponder and see life for what it is.  I remember times with friends where our conversation was so rich, so funny, so real, so full of life that I didn’t want it to end.  It was a sacred place.  I remember a couple times out surfing when the whole experience was so surreal it pointed me to God and to a plan bigger than me alone.  It was a sacred place.  I remember times with you kids camping at San Elijo, wrestling in the living room, going out to eat—it was a sacred place, holy ground.

The day you were born was one of those times.  Our trip to San Juan Capistrano was another, as was our trip to Europe.  I suppose the day you caught me prostrate in front of your door praying was another.  God has given us those things we share: the good, the bad, the funny, the ridiculous, the audacious.  In all of it, for the past twenty-two years, we’ve shared it together; father and daughter.  And now we share another time, one very different from the sacred moments we’ve shared in the past.  I will no longer be the main man in your life as of July 14.  It is holy ground, Laurel.  It is a sacred place.   

Scripture says a man will leave his father and mother and a woman will leave her home, and the two will become one flesh.  What we will all experience July 14 with you and Noah is sacred, holy ground.  It points to something much more than us.  I suppose that is part of the reason I wanted to participate more fully in the service.  I like those places where you have to take your shoes off, where God meets us in the experiences of life.  

I love you and have been privileged to be your father.  But you were really never mine or mom’s.  You were loaned to us from God.  And now you move on in your life to start your own family, to have your own sacred experiences with your husband.  All the time it points to something so much greater than us, to God, the ultimate Father.  

My challenge to you is to seek him fully.  Surrender to him and his ways and you will be blessed.  Life is tough but without surrendering to Christ it becomes even tougher.  Learn to respect your husband.  Honor him as the man in your family.  You will not regret it.  You are loved and I am proud to be your father.

Love Dad

I Grew Up in Hawaii

Not really. I grew up in Michigan. But as a I leader I came of age in Hawaii. I’m in Hawaii right now. It’s Jan’s favorite place on earth. We were driving up to the north shore of Oahu, it was raining so hard it was difficult to see and she wistfully says, “Oh, I could live here.” I’m thinking, “Hey girlfriend, if this was New York, we’d be in a blizzard. I just want to get where we’re going safe.” That’s my reference right now. Snow.

At any rate, I worked here for 2 ½ years at a church. Flew back and forth to Oahu. Things at the church didn’t turn out as planned and some of it was our/my fault. It was that difficult experience that allowed me to grow up as a leader. Here’s some things I’ve learned:
•Don’t worry about transitioning people if it’s the right thing to do, either from a job or off the staff entirely. It’s probably in the best interest of all involved especially if people are burned out or in the wrong position to begin with.

•As a leader, I am a steward of the gifts of the people I/God bring/s on my team. To fail to address real issues in their lives, or to fail to serve or help a team member when they really need help, is to fail in that stewardship. (One of our staff graciously this to me)

•Make the hard organizational decisions regardless of what happens. My failure to push organizational, structural, leadership and constitutional issues at the church created conflict that could have easily been avoidable.

•Put standards and policy in place for your team before you are forced to by your mistakes. I was forced to. It was my fault. Lesson learned. We have lots of really good standards and policies that govern our team and protect our staff and the churches we work with so that we can serve others unencumbered. Policy that is an anchor around your neck to fulfill your organizational vision is bad. Policy that allows you to accomplish it is really good.

•Take care of little things like job descriptions and performance reviews.

•Don’t hire people who aren’t on board with the vision, values, and mission of the team.

•Reconcile with those you are at odds with even if others won’t own their stuff. This is mission critical.

•If you know something won’t work, don’t let a team member, or anyone else for that matter, force you to go in that direction. Just say, “Hey, I think we are going on a different direction on this one and I’m going to have to make some choices.”  

In the long run, the conflict generated by that experience has been what’s catapulted our team forward. I reconciled with the other staff guy involved, and he has taken a part of our team to another level. I shudder to think what would have happened had he left in anger or I just fired him outright in frustration.

Hawaii is a great place to grow up. Aloha.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Ruined for Anything but What Matters--Part 2

I was studying Acts 17 for a sermon a few weeks ago. In pondering being ruined for anything but what matters I realized that just as there were idols in Athens, so there are idols in American culture: cultural idols. In Athens they had cultural idols for love and sex—Aphrodite and Eros were their names; athletics and work—his name was Hermes. They also had Bachus and Dionysus, gods for pleasure and the ultimate god, Zues, the god of power. Things haven’t changed. The same gods are in our culture today.

 If I’m going to be ruined, or ruin someone else, for anything but what matters, I have to become aware of our cultural idols and show them for what they really are. They promise the world but ultimately, over the long haul, they fail to deliver. And when you fail them, forget about it—you’re toast.

 I remember reading a story in the NY Times about a guy named Richard Fee who was his college class president, an aspiring medical student, very personable, etc. He committed suicide because he’d run out of a drug called Adderall. Its like Ridalin and used to help kids with Attention Deficit Disorder (A.D.D.). He’d gotten hooked on it and couldn’t see going through life without it’s assistance. Then the article went on to describe how this had become a normal thing on competitive college campuses. The students would use med’s to get the tunnel like focus they needed to study. In fact, they’d feign A.D.D. just to get access to the drugs. A friend of mine, whose son had legitimate A.D.D., told me that he’d tried them out himself, just to see what they did to his kid. He couldn’t believe how focused he became.

 In reading the article I thought to myself, “Why risk addiction for a grade?” Easy answer! The cultural gods promise you the world if you graduate from the best schools, make lots of money, and have the right job. But if you fail those gods, they punish you. This is one more reason I think Christianity makes sense—you find Jesus he’ll free you to become everything you were created to become. You fail him—he’ll forgive you. And because of his love demonstrated in his sacrificial life and death, you’ll want to live your life for him. If Jesus is who he claims to be, he’s ultimately, over the long haul, all that matters anyway. For me, its at least worth considering.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Ruined for Anything but What Matters!

“My kids said I ruined them for anything but what matters.”

 A friend of mine said that to me a few weeks ago, while we were sitting in a local establishment in Cannon Beach, Oregon. It was cold and when I got there the surf was absolutely roaring. The waves were huge—fifteen to twenty feet. I was there giving the oral report for a diagnostic we’d done for a regional district in a Christian denomination (for my non-churched readers, a denomination is a group of Christian's who organize themselves around certain theological truths and historical events). My friend, Randy, who is the supervisor of that district informed me that his children had said this to him. It caught my attention. Why would they say that? Why would they put it like that? 

 Here’s why: Randy is entrepreneurial, a church planter, and radically committed to the gospel of Jesus Christ. He and his wife raised their children to not play church or to be moralistic religious people. They raised them to radical followers of Jesus and they did so in the Pacific Northwest, one of the least Christianized parts of the United States. Their kids were part of exciting and culturally sensitive congregations that served others and brought people to a life changing faith in Christ. By doing this, Randy and his wife ruined their kids....for anything but what matters. His children won’t waste their lives simply on making money, or having the American dream, or just having fun. They’ve been ruined for blasé, boring moralistic religion. And they’ve also been ruined for the vacuous claims of a culture that promises the world but leaves one ultimately empty. So, here's what do I plan to do with this.

I hope to ruin every church I work with for anything but what matters! And I plan to do the same for my adult children and their children. It’s a worthy goal and one I look forward to doing.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Slowing Down to Speed Up

I changed my training regiment in mid-October. I slowed down my longer runs in order to avoid injury, but increased my speed work to up my speed. It hasn’t worked. In three months I’ve injured myself more times than I have in the previous three years. I’m not sure what I’ll do but I’m nursing another hamstring injury and can’t start to train in earnest for the Boston Marathon. Late October I ran 8 miles at 6:30/mile pace. Figured that would put me sub-three hours in a marathon pretty easy if by late February I could run 16 miles at at 6:30 pace. That ain’t happening. Not sure what to do but I’m going to have to change something. Those races are expensive and to waste the money by hurting myself—something I seem to have a penchant to do—is unwise.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Welcome Adeline (Sweet Adeline)

Remember that old barber shop quartet song, “Sweet Adeline, my Adeline?” My oldest daughter had baby number two the other day. Adeline (Addy for short) means noble. She’s noble alright! Six pounds and eleven ounces of nobility and lots of brown hair. She’s a milk guzzling machine. I’m thrilled. But I wondered, “Uh, what’s with the brown hair? Every other kid or grand kid around here is or was pretty much blonde. What’s up?” I got no answer. 

Laurel ended up in the hospital with endometriosis. But she got better by God's grace and modern medicine. One hundred-fifty years ago she would have probably died. Here's a picture of Addy (Adeline). It's all good!

Check out this 1939 vintage barber shop quartet singing Sweet Adeline:  

Check out this more recent version of the same song with an explanation of its history. Pretty interesting:

It’s (not) better to be European

We had a tile guy come in to our house the other day. After 10 years, we were finally putting up our back splash in the kitchen. It was one of my sabbatical projects along with making sure we had a generator wired directly into our house so the next time Hurricane Sandy (or a black out or a brown out or anything else, for that matter) shuts out our electricity, we’ll be all set. At any rate, the tile guy comes and he’s named German. But he’s not German, he’s from South America.

 I said, “Wow, that’s an interesting name. German! Sounds very European.” To which he responded, “Well, yes but unfortunately, I’m not.” That took me back. Because the tone of voice, the way it was said, etc. all communicated, “I wish I was white and European. But I’m not white or European even though I have a white European name.” It bothered me. I asked about his ethnicity. He was from Ecuador. I said, “You have a wonderful culture.” He nodded, smiled, and agreed with me, then we talked about tile. I was going to lean into him a bit but it would have been inappropriate.

 Who knows exactly what it meant? But it took me back. What are the standards for beauty, privilege, and success, even in today’s American culture? White, blonde, blue eyed, and western? I am white. I’ve been white my whole life. I like white people. (I once said that in front of a white congregation in Maine and they thought it was a racist statement—from a white guy! Go figure.) But white isn’t right and the west isn’t always best. Caucasians have made a wonderful imprint on the culture of the world. Our culture, and the many varieties it contains, will be represented in heaven (Rev 7:9-11). But we have a lot to repent of as well. The same white skin that made so many wonderful scientific discoveries and gave us Bach and Mozart in the 18th century also raped the Belgian Congo in the 19th century (Read the book King Leupold’s Ghost for a nauseating study of that), and started a good chunk of World War II in the 20th century.

 I believe each cultural group has wonderful redemptive gifts that it brings by divine design to the world community. But each cultural group as well, must come to grips with the reality that sin has tainted those gifts and they must come to grips with that, for true cultural healing to take place. Speaking about the Germans, consider my post on my trip to Berlin to see what cultural repentance may look like—even for a culture or government that’s not distinctly religious (See January 2012—Post entitled The Topography of Terror).