Friday, August 31, 2007

Laying Foundations

Years ago (If you've read my chronicles then you already know this) I worked in construction for a design build firm in South Bend, IN. Before I moved into the office doing the actual design work, I did a stint in the field doing the actual hands on construction. I learned a ton that first summer. One of the primary and unforgetable lessons I learned though, was how footings and foundations are actually poured. The painstaking, labor intensive digging that precedes the pouring of the cement mix over the steel rebar, goes ever so slowly. I would always want that part of the process to hurry along as it seemed pointless and boring. Why couldn't we just make a nice rectangular form and pour the concrete slab (the footprint of the building) into the form and, voila! After all, I reasoned, the weight of the slab alone should keep the building firmly anchored to the ground. Or should it? Apparently, I learned, smarter men than me had figured out that the integrity of a building all has something to do with the foundation going deep into the ground so that the building can stand tall and sturdy out of the ground.

Building a building is much like maturing as a person. People have anchor points. Firm rocks sunk deeply in a solid foundation. Our anchors are not casual opinions or negotiable hypotheses, but ironclad undeniables that will keep us firmly planted on our faith when the storms come. And come they will! How strong are your foundations? How sturdy is your life when faced with storms? Yesterday I had the opportunity to speak with a dear friend of mine that I hadn't spoken with in almost a month. Now that may not seem strange to you, but for me that is an awfully long time to not communicate with someone whom I spoke with everyday as our church went through its transitional season.

I discovered that the reason my friend had been incommunicado was simply the fact that he was going through hell on earth. I listened sympathetically to his 'horror' stories of the past six weeks, and my heart groaned for the loss and pain that he and his wife have had to endure. I was further burdened by the fact that I was helpless to do anything to help alleviate his pressure, save giving him a few, what seemed to me to be empty platitudes. I wish I had the prescience to guarantee him certain things. I know how much he and his wife have sacrificed to be were they are, doing what they do. While I am helpless and at a loss for what to do, God is not. This fact became abundantly apparent to me as my friend shared the stories of the lessons that he was learning along the way, giving all the credit to God.

It occurred to me that my friend's foundation is solid as a rock (pun intended). His anchors go deep into the soil of God's promises to him, and the winds of circumstance do nothing to destabilize his faith. You, my friend are sturdy as an oak tree whose roots run deep. I am praying for you and your family through this difficult season, and I want you to know that I will be right there in the trenches with you, digging the foundations even deeper, every step of the way. Just as you were a 'glowing angel' for me in my dark seasons, I pray for the honor and privilege of returning the favor in yours. Remember this, "No one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ." Your foundation is solid as the Rock! I love you and your family dearly.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The Servant Savior

I had a really interesting and enlightening experience in church last Sunday. A Newcomer came up to me at the end of the service to tell me how much she had thoroughly enjoyed her time with us. She informed me that she had been raised Episcopalian, and had in fact attended an 8.30am service at the Episcopalian church before attending the 9.30am service at The Well. She further informed me that she was actively seeking and praying for a new church home. Probing, I asked what she had enjoyed most about the service. "It was a combination of everything" she replied. "There's no doubt in my mind that you are going to be big and make a significant impact!"

I responded to her that while I appreciated that sentiment, we were just here to serve and love our community, and that whomever God brought to The Well would not only be welcome, but would be loved and valued. She beamed an infectious smile at me and said, "I hope you never lose that attitude." While this little conversation warmed my heart, I must shamefully admit that I didn't always feel that way. There was a season in my life when I would have measured the success of church ministry based solely on numbers. Please don't misunderstand me to be saying that numbers are not important. After all, numbers represent people, and the more people we reach with the good news of the Gospel, the more effective we would be in our calling and purpose. My point is that previously, I wasn't necessarily interested in the individual stories and the impact God was having on the individual lives through our ministry. What a shame; to miss the beauty of the forest because you were focused on the trees. In this context, the trees would represent the pursuit of ministry, while the forest is the actual fruit in the lives of the people we reach

My shift in paradigm has brought me to the realization that I want my ministry to be symbolic of servanthood and humility. I want my ministry to be modelled after the ministry of Jesus. I want my ministry to be selfless yet passionate about helping people. I know, I know, "What does that look like?" I hear you ask. Well let's examine what the Scriptures have to say about that.

[Jesus] now showed [His disciples] the full extent of His love.... He got up from the meal, took off His outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around His waist. After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash His disciples feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around Him. (John 13: 1,4,5)

From these verses it is obvious that Jesus is the most active person at the table. He is not portrayed as the one who reclines and receives, but as the one who stands and gives. He still does. This is what I seek in my life. The desire and will to give without expectation of return. It is hard and often thankless, but it is oh, so rewarding when you put everything into its proper perspective. It is a privilege for me to serve as Lead Pastor at The Well. It is an honor for me to pour myself out like a drink offering for the people that call The Well their church home. Are you looking for a home? Do you need to find a place that will love and serve you unconditionally? Then come to The Well. It will be my privilege to serve you, just as we are continually served by our Servant Savior.

Friday, August 24, 2007

I will Lift up my eyes to the Hills, from where my help comes...

While I'm on this trend of recollecting the lyrics to certain songs, there is a more recent song that has had a profound impact on me. I don't know about you, but when I am going through a certain "season" in my life, different things speak to my heart differently. Sometimes it's stuff that I've always known but have never thought about in the profound light that I see it at that point in time. This week I've been reflecting on the words to the chorus of Bebo Norman's song, I Will Lift My Eyes. The first time it registered in my consciousness, I was moved to tears because of how appropriate the words seem in relationship to so much that is going on around me. Before I begin to sermonize, let me simply pen the words to the chorus so that you can find out for yourself how they affect you.

I will lift my eyes, to the Maker of the mountains I can't climb

I will lift my eyes, to the calmer of the oceans raging wild

I will lift my eyes, to the healer of the hurt I hold inside

I will lift my eyes, lift my eyes, to you.

Now, before you begin to recommend healing therapy, let me assure you that I am doing well. These words just speak so appropriately to certain circumstances that have brought me to the end of myself and forced me to rely on Jesus utterly and completely. This is a good place to be, and it really is all the "therapy" I need. I wonder if you've ever found yourself at the end of yourself? Empty, unclear, hurting, and ready to give it all up. If you haven't I don't envy you the experience (it's inevitable). It seems that that feeling is a necessary step if we are going to be emptied of ourselves and be filled with all that God has for us. There is an alternative of course, and that is to remain just the way you are, not worrying about God's perfect plan for you, or about accomplishing your life's purpose. For some people this may seem like a viable alternative. However, for me it is a non-negotiable. The sum total of my existence is to let God be fully formed in me so that I can be fully conformed to His will and purpose.

This means that I must be willing to fall on the Rock and be broken, lest the Rock falls on me and crushes me. And in that moment of breaking, when all seems completely lost, empty, and devoid of hope, I will lift up my eyes to the hills from where my help comes, my help comes from the Lord, the Maker of Heaven and earth.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The Anchor Holds

Years ago, a Christian artist recorded a song titled The Anchor Holds. It was a brilliant articulation of the idea that, Christ is the only reliable anchor in the midst of life's raging storms. It also served as a poignant reminder that the storms of life are an inevitable part of living. I am amazed at how many of us, though we know this fact in theory, are taken by surprise when hit with tragedy or difficulty. In recent weeks we have read of tragedies across the world that have left families devastated and searching for answers. The collapsed mine in Utah, in which trapped miners including a young father of three young children, lost their lives, readily springs to mind, as does the raging hurricane, Dean, which has reportedly already taken twelve lives in the Carribean, and is currently threatening the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico as a category five storm (the worst and deadliest hurricane there is).

Sometimes, what is missed in all the pain of the tragedy is the amazing heroism of ordinary people, living ordinary lives, but who end up doing extraordinary feats. The young father of three apparently threw himself over another miner who was alongside him attempting to rescue the original six miners that had been trapped in a preceding cave-in, saving the life of his fellow rescuer while sacrificing his own. I think the Church could learn a thing or two from stories like this. Supreme sacrifice is actually the measure of real Christianity! It is the story of the Cross. We have made it about "supreme success" with little said about sacrifice. In essence, we have begun preaching "another gospel." That is largely because the message of sacrifice is not a palatable message in todays Church. In our "motivational" world of success strategies, where success is measured largely by accomplishments, sacrifice is kicked to the kerb in favor of the "What's in it for me?" culture.

Let me quote a friend on why sacrifice is a "four-letter" word in today's Christian vocabulary.

"You won't turn on television and hear many preachers declaring such a message [a message about sacrifice over success] nor will you visit many churches and hear it either. The reason is it will not attract a crowd. But it will attract God, and He attracts a crowd. The Gospel is not a story of success but rather one of sacrifice. Yes, it creates success, but success that is born of sacrifice not of greed and self-centeredness. The message of success without sacrifice begets cowards not heroes. It gives birth to those who put themselves above all others; who desert in the heat of battle, and who abandon ship when it begins to take on a little water."

It behooves us to remember that the salvation we so freely enjoy was not free; it came at the greatest price. The ultimate supreme sacrifice was made. The intersection of God's love and the Cross of Christ is where we experience the greatest demonstration of sacrifice that breeds success. As we pray for our own needs today, let's make it a point to say a heartfelt prayer for the bereaved and beleaugered families of the recent global tragedies (beyond just Utah and Mexico), knowing that they have paid a high price in reminding us of our mortality in the midst of life's raging storms. If you are a Christian, then you can draw comfort from knowing that "The Anchor Holds."

Wednesday, August 15, 2007


Wow! I'm getting withdrawal symptoms from being away from blogging for so long. I haven't had access to the internet for a while, as my life has been a whirlwind of activity over the last week-and-a-half. We have had to pack up our "lives" and move house, only to unpack all the stuff we'd just packed up a few days before. Moving can be a real drag. I discovered that moving actually reveals who your real friends are, (they are the only ones willing to move heavy washers and dryers, refrigerators and other large pieces of furniture which don't belong to them).

It didn't help that Orlando weather has attempted to simulate hell over the last week and a half, with temperatures running into the high nineties and the humidity creating havoc, with a heat index of 110 degrees. It made me wish that I could have jumped into an ice box to cool off. Interestingly enough, we had recently participated in a wonderful event for the city of Longwood, dubbed, National Night Out. It spotlighted local area businesses and ministries, and we were invited to participate by the city. The event was held at a base ball park and we had the privilege of being located on home plate. As we sweltered in the heat, I couldn't help but think about what it must be like to be cocooned in the arms of God, safe and secure from all harm. "It must feel like being in the airconditioning on a meltingly hot day," I thought to myself.

Then Laini, one of our associate pastor's daughters, demonstrated just what it was I had been thinking. She found one of the coolers that had been used to cool the water we were handing out to people, and promptly plonked herself down in it and shut the lid over her head. Right then I saw the sermon illustration! I wish adults were as uninhibited as kids, and much less pretentious than we are. If I'm being honest, we probably all wish we could have jumped into the cooler with Laini and cocooned ourselves in the cool, comfortable, and secure atmosphere that it offered. This is what is required of us as we are called to trust in the Lord with all our hearts and not lean on our own understanding. Sometimes it requires that we look "foolish" and jump into the cooler where we are cocooned in the safety of His everlasting arms while the "heat" of our circumstances swelters around us. I'm thinking about jumping into a cooler (if I can find one I will fit into), will you join me? Enjoy these pictures of National Night Out while you sit in your cooler.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

The Long and Winding Road

"That was a pretty long contemplative period," I hear you say. I guess the more time I spent away from my routine, the more I realized how much I needed to get a new perspective on a number of things. Let me share with you one of the things that has crystalized in my heart over this "contemplative" season. Life does not guarantee, or even promise you constants. You are not guaranteed that things will turn out exactly as you've planned. You are not even guaranteed that your making all the "right" choices will assure the expected outcome. There is only one thing that is guaranteed (and I'm not talking about death and taxes), and that is the fact that God is always faithful.

As I've stated on a number of occasions, it may seem difficult to wrap your mind around the concept of God's faithfulness in the midst of heartache and difficulty, but that is simply a matter of perspective. A mountain may seem somewhat small and undaunting from a great distance, but your perspective changes once you begin the climb. Our perspective on our circumstances cannot be motivated solely by those circumstances, but by the promises of God in the Scriptures. As His purpose unfolds in our lives, our perspective changes as we begin to understand a little better why we went through certain circumstances. One way to guarantee a change in your perspective, is by developing a personal relationship with Jesus. A personal relationship with Jesus will put a new perspective on your values, it will redirect the daily investing of your gifts and your purpose, and the lessons learned along the way will become invaluable stepping stones to help and encourage others, instead of just being hard experiences. Why is this so important you ask? Too many people aim at nothing with their lives, and instead live randomly from one experience to another. Living like this assures you a schizophrenic lifestyle. Happy one moment, depressed the next, depending on your circumstances. Since our lives are made up of cumulative seconds, that become minutes, that become hours, that become weeks, and... you know the rest, each moment and decision that we make, has a profound effect on the totality of our lives.

To understand this, and successfully scale the mountains of life, you must have a proper perspective of your "mountain." My father-in-law is 'famous' for his profound cliche's. One of my favorite ones was when he would say, "The great big road of I-don't-care, leads to the wonderful majestic city of Oh-had-I-known." In other words, if we live our lives as if nothing else matters but our happiness, we are likely to miss God's purpose for our lives. The reason for this is the faulty premise which suggests that the most important thing to God regarding you is your happiness. In reality, the most important thing to God concerning you is your obedience and the molding of His character in you. Ask Joseph, he would probably tell you that his stint in prison wasn't necessarily the "happiest" season of his life, but he continued to be obedient because of God's promise. He ultimately became Prime Minister of a foreign nation. Ask Moses, and he is more likely to tell you that a life as Prince of Egypt would have certainly been more accommodating than life as a goat herder (he went from dining with Heads of State, to counting the heads of sheep). He ultimately delivered God's people from a 420 year "hiatus" in Egypt.

Prison prepared Joseph to rule with sensitivity, understanding, and compassion. Hibernating on the back side of the wilderness for forty years prepared Moses to lead millions of Jews through that same barren landscape for another forty years. Here's a profound truth about life: The road may often seem long and winding and at times inavigable. But whatever road you're on, and whatever the difficulties of navigating that road may be, make sure it isn't the "great big road of I-don't-care," so that you don't end up at the "wonderful, majestic city of Oh-had-I-known."