29 December 2007


My friend Marvin sent me and a group of other pastors this William Booth quote tonight -- and below are some of my late-night thoughts about Booth's words ...

I consider that the chief dangers which
confront the coming century
will be
religion without the Holy Ghost,
Christianity without Christ,
without repentance, salvation without
politics without God, and
heaven without hell.
- William Booth,
founder of The Salvation Army

Since William Booth lived from 10 April, 1829 to 20 August, 1921, and I don't know the context or the date of this quote, I will dangerously assume that he was speaking of the 20th Century and not the 21st. But if he was speaking of the 20th Century, he was no doubt speaking of all the "decades to come after the new millennium of 1900", which would include 2007 and beyond. That said, here are a couple things I hear in Booth's words ...

chief dangers will always be part of life, whether history repeats itself or writes new chapters. But even when various civilizations around the world or around the corner are "slouching toward Gomorrah" (quoting Robert Bork's 1996 book of the same name, in which Bork was quoting with a twist a line from William Butler Yeat's poem "The Second Coming" in which he wrote, "And what rough beast, its hour come round at last / Slouches toward Bethlehem to be born?"), there are always signs of a remnant, post-exilic faith whose life and mission are not motivated by these chief dangers to cower, hide, and doom-speak.

And this my friends gives me great comfort and hope. The sound of hope is always louder than the sound of despair -- and the chief glories are always more majestic than the chief dangers, to those pressing into Jesus Christ and inviting the ears and the eyes of their hearts to find their rhythm, harmony, vision and focus in Him.

religion without the Holy Ghost will always both intrigue us and fail us. People want to believe that their beliefs have power -- and so when the focus of religion moves off the Holy Ghost, it most commonly comes to illicitly rest on the power of people and on the perceived authority of their doctrine, theology, and ideas. The mind always seeks to be exalted above the power of God's Holy Ghost, just as cancer always seeks to go deeper into the body.

And the result is always the same. Death. Power and love can only equally co-exist in the Holy Ghost -- for in humankind, and in our minds, they are always at odds. And so a move toward a religion without the Holy Ghost will always be rooted in a desire to be perceived as "lovers" of people, ideals, justice, and even morality; but in the end what will be exposed is an unmasked thirst for the power, influence, recognition and devotion that rightly belong to God.

Christianity without Christ has been the goal of countless Christian cults since even before the manger and the cross. What I've seen through the time-line of history is that most people don't usually try to construct a belief system called "Christianity without Christ". But what they try to do is to construct a belief system called "Christianity" but with the "different Jesus" Paul spoke of in his writings (cf., SECOND CORINTHIANS 11:4) ... which will ultimately be a "different gospel" (cf., GALATIANS 1:6) altogether.

To maintain the purity of Who Jesus Christ is we must live, breathe, and find our being in Jesus Christ. We must love to read and study the Gospels, not relegating it to little children, or to those "young in the faith". For the whole Bible only finds its meaning, purpose, construct and central message as we become passionate about the One who stepped out of heaven to step into our lives.

forgiveness without repentance is what Bonhoeffer called "cheap grace" in his book "The Cost of Discipleship"; and it's what our flesh yearns for. In "The Screwtape Letters" C.S. Lewis wrote that the goal of Satan is to "distract us", so that "in the midst of a flood, we'll respond by picking up a fire extinguisher." (a paraphrased quote ... sorry Clive).

Forgiveness without repentance
is only a perceived forgiveness, because there's no true victory without total surrender. For our churches to become places of "great grace" they must become places of "great confession, great repentance, and great surrender." And this movement toward authenticity, clean-hands, clean-hearts, and the beauty of holiness must begin with us as the shepherds of God's flocks. Again, C.S. Lewis writes, this time in his book "The Four Loves" ...

Those, like myself, whose imagination far exceeds
their obedience, are subject to a just penalty: We
easily imagine conditions far higher than we have
really reached. If we describe what we have
imagined, we may make others, and make ourselves
believe that we have really been there — and so
deceive both them and ourselves.

What Lewis describes is the fruit of forgiveness without repentance. And this is a place we must not go near, stand next to, and dwell in -- because to remain this shallow, this masked, and this rebellious will lead us in short order to become the very shepherds described in EZEKIEL 34.

salvation without regeneration, like forgiveness without repentance, is a conundrum of epic proportions. It simply cannot exist, anymore than a pig can fly, a carp can read Dr. Suess, or I can do math problems beyond what I learned in the third grade. But when we settle for the illusion of salvation without regeneration, we lie our way into death, both in the here and now and for eternity.

And just so I'm not misunderstood ... an inability to provide the goods on either side of salvation never falls on God. God is always willing, forever offering, eternally non-reticent about offering this beautiful gift to you and me. It's our stubbornness to sacrifice, our love of ego over the Imago Dei, and our choosing of pride over humility, that keeps us turning away from God's offering, and calling "an encounter with God" that scratches the surface "a life altering experience" and then pretending that piety is a garment we willingly wear.

But in the end nearly nobody falls for the hoax. Not the people who know us, not us ourselves, and certainly not God.

politics without God will ultimately unravel because the structure of civilizations and the moral fibers that weave together to build the woven structure politic cannot be rooted in the mortal-morality of a fallen, sinful world. It's what Jesus was talking about in MATTHEW 7:24-29 when He said ...

24 "These words I speak to you are not
incidental additions to your life, home-
owner improvements to your standard
of living. They are foundational words,
words to build a life on. If you work
these words into your life, you are like
a smart carpenter who built his house
on solid rock.
25 Rain poured down, the
river flooded, a tornado hit - but nothing
moves that house. It was fixed to the rock.

26 But if you just us my words in Bible
studies and don't work them into your life,
you are like a stupid carpenter who built
his house on the sandy beach.
27 When a
storm rolled in and the waves came up, it
collapsed like a house of cards.

28 When Jesus concluded his address, the
crowd burst into applause. They had never
heard teaching like this.
29 It was apparent
that he was living everything he was saying
- quite a contrast to their religion teachers!
This was the best teaching they had ever

God simply asks us to invite Him to teach us how to live with one another in the world in ways that reflect the thoughts, the words, and the deeds of Jesus Christ. Is it hard? For sure. But it's easier than all the other ways the world has come up with. And so as pastor-teachers, and as the shepherds of God's flock called Northwest Yearly Meeting, let's join God in this way of taking on, and living into the Manifesto of Jesus Christ He invoked at the beginning of His ministry and that was recorded in LUKE 4:18-19 (cf., ISAIAH 61:1-2) ...



heaven without hell ... Universalism seems like a good idea in much the same way that much of communism looked good on paper at the turn of the 20th century. But the folks in Northwest Yearly Meeting are not universalists, and to wander toward this theological precipice in the name of camaraderie, or when falsely motivated by a desire to be known for our tolerant love more than for our convictions, is a path we'll only follow at our own peril.

But what I've found through the years is that when I teach passionately about grace and the unconditional mercy of God, keeping the focus on heaven and not hell, 1) people who are seekers, 2) people who are young Christ-followers, and 3) people who are seasoned disciples of Jesus Christ, choose with ever-increasing measure to follow Him out of insatiable love, and not because they're simply trying harder, or gritting their religious teeth more fervently.

Universalism is a cop out. It's a slap in the face of Truth that violates Jesus' words in JOHN 3:16 while wearing an "all-embracing" grin. Phillip Gulley and Carlton Pearson's "Gospel of Inclusion" ... and a host of pastor-teachers, shepherds and leaders who were formerly orthodox in their beliefs about heaven and hell, but who have now taken a hard turn, are wrong.

Because in the end, we can't talk about heaven or hell without also talking about sin. To believe in heaven but not hell is to believe in the goodness of God, but not the justice of God, and it's to believe in humanity's original blessing while ignoring our original sin.

Marvin, thanks for this good William Booth posting tonight. It's been to think about these things as we come to the end of yet another year. Let's prove William Booth wrong by the way we live, by the way we teach, by the way we lead, by the way we shepherd, by the way we think, and by the way we speak. Godspeed and Good night to all. Happy New Year.



25 December 2007



I’d like to tell you a story this morning – it’s a story that takes place many centuries ago in the Holy Land. It’s a story I’m sure you’ve heard before – but this morning I invite you to hear it again. And as you listen to the old, to the familiar, to what you think you’re going to hear – I urge you to allow yourselves to be touched by the grace and truth that is found in this season of holy nights, good news and great joy.

In those days a man by the name of Caesar Augustus was pretty much in charge of everything that seemed to be of any importance. Caesar was only one of the titles Augustus bore. Others were imperator, pontifex maximus, princepus ultimus and so on.

But no matter by which name he was called – they all got across the point that he ruled Rome and virtually the whole world. And so it was, from this lofty position, that Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. Now this wasn’t really the whole world mind you; but it was the whole world Caesar Augustus knew about – and of course, like most of us, he knew far less than he thought he did.

Caesar Augustus believed he was Emperor of the whole world, but he had a lot to learn about geography because really, his kingdom was only one small corner of the globe. And so in the end, Caesar’s decree was pretty well ignored, in America for example … and in places like Lapland, Nova Scotia, and the Philippines. But in the Holy Land it was obeyed.

I guess it could have been done the other way around … with the government sending census takers door to door. But governments have always liked to see people march to their orders, follow their instructions, and stand in their lines, and Caesar Augustus’ government was no different. And so on camels, on carts, on donkeys and on foot, everyone traveled to their hometown to be counted.

Among the Jews traveling to their birthplaces were Joseph and the young woman he was engaged to. Her name was Mary, and she was expecting her first child at any time. A weary-from-walking carpenter … and a tired-from-traveling, pregnant young woman. But this was no ordinary couple – and neither was their baby ordinary … not by any stretch of the imagination.

You see, a few months before, an angel by the name of Gabriel (“Gabe” to his friends) appeared to Mary and told her of the mystery that was to come upon her. And in fact, before he left, the last words he spoke to Mary were, “You mustn’t be afraid.” And if that wasn’t the understatement of all time, I don’t know what could top it.

And what about Joseph? I mean if your girlfriend had told you the story Mary must have told him, would you have believed her? Can you imagine the conversation they must have had? “Okay, Mary, let me get this straight … you’re a virgin … and … you’re pregnant. Come on, who do you think you’re talking to here? I wasn’t born yesterday. Give me a break!”

And so when you really think about it, you can hardly blame Joseph for considering breaking off their engagement when he discovered that Mary was indeed pregnant, through no fault or passion of her own. Nevertheless, when God explained it all to him in a dream, he took it like a man who knew God and believed God’s voice, and all was forgiven.

And so this very pregnant young girl and her wood-working fiancé came down from Galilee, out of the town of Nazareth, to Judea, about 85 miles to the south, and into Bethlehem, the city of David. And while they were there, standing in line, filling out forms and trying to figure out if they had enough money left to get supper, the time came for Mary to give birth to her child.

The donkey ride probably got things going. I mean, ladies, imagine riding a donkey for 85 miles in your third trimester! Today we use Italian food and castor oil to nudge nature along – but how about riding a mule from Newberg to Cottage Grove! Ya – I’d think that would probably do the trick.

Now I don’t want you to think Joseph was an insensitive slouch. When they first arrived in town, he tried to get a hotel room. He really had, but when he went up to the front door of the only one with it’s “vacancy” light still on, the clerk said all the rooms were booked – and that he just forgot to turn out the light.

And when Joseph tried explaining to him that Mary was about to have a baby, the clerk said, “Don’t tell me about your problems, I just work here.” And so they ended up in a stable. Now stables don’t usually house people – in the same way that houses don’t usually stable animals. So of course there were animals in the stable; some donkeys, a few horses and probably some dairy cows too.

Now in all the manger artwork I’ve ever seen the stable is pictured as being very clean and filled with sweet-smelling straw. And I certainly hope that it was like all the little crèche scenes we see on people’s mantles – although I seriously doubt that it was. And it was there, where Mary gave birth to her first-born son and laid him in a manger.

An infant in a feed trough – God as a baby. A lowlier place couldn’t possibly have existed. Are you picturing the scene? A damp, smelly grotto, a baby resting quietly, a couple of new parents – wiped out from the long trip, the labor, and the delivery. I guess that if anyone is dozing off now it’s probably Joseph. He can’t remember the last time he sat down. And now that Mary and their new son are comfortable, he leans against the rock wall of the stable and feels his eyes grow heavy. He still hasn’t figured it all out. The mystery of it all, I mean.

A father … but not married? A virgin … yet a mother? A baby son … yet God? His head is swimming with questions that he doesn’t have the energy to wrestle with. What’s important in his mind now is that the baby is fine, and that Mary is safe. And so he curls up next to them and rubs and soothes Mary’s weary body and listens to the cooing and the yawning of his newborn son. And then finally, as sleep comes near, he remembers the name the angel told him to give his son … and he looks at his little boy and whispers, “We’ll call you ‘Jesus.’”

But while Joseph nods off, Mary’s quite awake. My, she looks so young! Fourteen or fifteen tops. Her head rests on the soft leather of Joseph’s saddle and most of the pain of Jesus’ delivery is now eclipsed by amazement. She looks down to her breast and into His face. Her son. Her LORD.

And at that exact moment in history, the person who best understands who God is and what He’s up to is a teenage girl in a smelly stable. Imagine that. Mary can’t take her eyes off of Jesus. She remembers the words of the angel: “His kingdom will never end.” She thinks about the days to come and quietly wonders to herself …

“Will we ever count the stars together … and succeed? Someday, will His brothers and sisters understand who He is? Will He do well in school? Someday, will I accidentally call Him ‘Father’? Will He ever wake up in the middle of the night and be afraid?”

So many questions – so few answers. Only a peace that passes understanding – only a quiet pondering of the greatest event of all time – the miracle she holds in her arms.

Such tiny hands: to someday touch a leper’s wounds, to wipe a widow’s tear, to bear a Roman spike – but tonight they’re clutched in an infant’s fist. Such tiny eyes: to someday see our pain, our selfishness, and our fears – but tonight they’re closed in tranquil sleep. A tiny mouth: to someday define grace, speak love, and whisper hope – but tonight it’s still and quiet. Such tiny feet: to someday walk painful, dusty, difficult steps – but tonight they’re curled up … soft and pink.

As Mary looks at her little boy she’s hit by the fact that He really looks like anything but a king. His face is prunish and red. His cry, even though strong and healthy, is still the helpless and piercing cry of a baby. He’s absolutely dependent upon her for His well-being. Majesty in the midst of the mundane. Holiness in the filth of sheep manure and sweat. Divinity entering the world on the floor of a stable, through the womb of a girl, in the presence of carpenter. She touches His face and whispers, “How long was your journey?” And then they both fall asleep.

Now there were shepherds living in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks by night. Actually they were probably lying around a campfire because sheep aren’t too hard to watch when they’re sleeping. And the shepherds were smoking pipes and telling jokes and passing around a wineskin. They were kind of a motley bunch, these shepherds. I mean, back then, it wasn’t a line of work that educated people went into. In other words, shepherds weren’t really looked on very highly by other people.

They weren’t considered to be high-class citizens … because, let’s face it, sheep aren’t high-class animals. From a distance they might be, but not when you get up close to them. Sheep are fine as long as they’re doing what they want to do. But as soon as you try to make a sheep do what you want it to do, I tell you … all the high-class people get out of the profession at that point. And the only people left to be shepherds are the folks who don’t have anything else.

We read in The Gospel of Luke – the 2nd chapter – that as the shepherds were lying there, an angel of the LORD appeared to them, and the glory of the LORD shone around them. Luke actually writes “And lo, an angel of the LORD appeared to the shepherds.” When I was a kid, I thought that was “Lo” was the angel’s name … and so until I was 12 years old or so, I always thought angels were Chinese.

But these shepherds hadn’t ever seen anybody from China … and they probably hadn’t seen an angel before either … and so I doubt that they got the two mixed up. But when they saw the angels, Luke tells us that they were terrified. And frankly, I don’t blame them a bit. And so when the angels appeared, they put their arms over their heads and hugged the ground – they literally pressed their faces into the ground.

You see they were kind of shy people, these shepherds. A couple of them hid their wineskins, thinking that maybe God had come to punish them for drinking too much. And they lay there whimpering and crying, saying “No, please … don’t.” And so when the angel said, “Do not be afraid”, the words went right over their heads because they’d never looked at an angel before – they’ve never heard an angel’s voice before – they’d never smelled an angel before.

And the angel was sort of like a human, but not exactly. And the one that was talking … his voice was strange – kind of distant and echoey. And the smell that the angel gave off! … well, it was a smell of such purity that it almost hurt their noses. And then, right in the midst of their terror, as though it was the most natural thing in the world, the angel said these words …

“It’s okay. Don’t be afraid. I’m here to tell you the best news you or anyone ever born has ever heard. In Bethlehem, the town of David, your long-awaited-for Messiah has finally left heaven and come to earth. And He hasn’t come for just a few people. No, in fact, far from it.

God has come for everyone … and I’m inviting you to have front row seats. Emmanuel, God with us, has shown up on earth just like the rest of you did … as a baby. And here’s how you’ll know that you’ve found the right baby. Go to Bethlehem and you’ll find Him waiting for you, wrapped in cloths and lying peacefully in a manger.

And then Luke tells us that suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace to everyone.” A whole angel band – singing and dancing in the night sky. It was kind of like a celestial Lawrence Welk Concert – but without a stage – if you can only imagine such a terrifyingly wondrous thing. And after two or three numbers -- and then a reprise of the original theme – they left. Not one by one, but all at once. One second they were there and then the next they were just gone.

And after they’d vanished, some of the shepherds weren’t too sure if it had been a dream – or maybe a nightmare. But none of them were going to take any chances. And so they rushed into Bethlehem to see what it was that the angels were talking about. The angels told them “to go into the city”, and so they “went into the city.” Like Joseph and Mary before them, they heard and they obeyed … it was as simple as that.

And as they made their way toward the city, they followed a star. Like most stars, it was high in the sky, so it only pointed them in the general direction. In other words, it wasn’t too useful in helping them find one baby, in one stable, in one section of town. A street map would have been much more helpful than a star, but the angels didn’t give them a street map … only a command. And so when they got to Bethlehem they still had to look around for a little while.

Some of the shepherds believed what they’d been told … and some other ones weren’t quite so sure. And so they’d stop towns people while going through the streets – and they’d tap them on the shoulder and ask, “Hey, excuse me, but you didn’t happen to see a heavenly host singing and dancing up in the sky, kind of off to the south from here … say … about 40 minutes ago, did you?”

And the person would say, “A heavenly what?” And then the doubting shepherds would reply, “Oh never mind.” And then at least one of them was heard to have said, “You know Bob, we were drinking a lot. I emptied half that wineskin myself.”

But finally they found the stable. And they walked in and there was Mary and Joseph … and there was the baby-God wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger – just as they’d been told. And instantly, they all believed. They all believed instantly. They didn’t have to ask a whole lot of questions. They just knew that everything the angels had said was true. And they tiptoed out after worshiping the child. And from that night on, they were never the same people again.

Sure, they went back to shepherding, but they were never the same again. They were filled with joy and happiness the rest of their lives. Not that it made shepherding any easier, or that it made the sheep any easier to handle. Sheep were sheep. And they still got angry some times … and at other times they still got sad. But life was never the same again for them. There was always a light in their hearts and it was never pitch-dark for them again – for as long as they lived.

There were other things that happened too. Some time later three wise men came from a large Eastern University. There was an Assistant Wiseman and an Associate Wiseman, and there was the Chairman of the Wisdom Department. And they came bringing gifts … and they worshiped Jesus. And like the shepherds before them, they believed from the very first moment they saw Jesus.

Even though worshiping wasn’t exactly the custom among scholars at the time, they bowed to Him and recognized Him as their God and as their King. They believed instantly – letting understanding come out of their faith instead of waiting for faith to come out of understanding. They believed instantly. And so did the innkeeper … in a way. At least, he believed that an event happened that had great publicity value for Bethlehem.

And so he fired the clerk who’d sent Joseph and Mary away. And he sent a message to Joseph that a mistake had been made at the reservation desk – that they did have a room for them, and that they were welcome to come back and spend the whole weekend at no charge. And he made plans to change the name of his hotel to THE MESSIAH INN, and to raise his prices – and he would put up a plaque in the room where Jesus had slept which would simply say, “HE SLEPT HERE”.

He also planned to put a gift-shop in the lobby where he could sell holy-nativity-type-items. In fact, he’d already placed a large order for hand-carved sheep and mangers when word came back to him that Joseph and Marry had already left.

For you see, the angel had come back – maybe it was Gabriel again – we really don’t know. But he told Joseph and Mary that their lives were in danger and that King Herod would be coming after them. And so they left. The stable and the manger were empty. And when the soldiers arrived, all they found was a bunch of hungry animals standing around. And outside on the street a crowd of people gathered … people coming to see the miracle that they’d heard about from the shepherds … but HE was gone.

And if they were to find this child, this gift from the Heavenly Father, the Messiah, they’d have to find Him somewhere else, or in some other way.

I guess, when you come right down to it, the shepherds were the lucky ones … and the wise men … because they saw it all. They were there. It all happened to them. They didn’t have to be told about it second-hand. They didn’t have to sit down and study it and try to figure it all out. It was just given to them as a gift. They looked into the eyes of Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God, and because of what they saw … and because of what they discovered … and because of what they believed … they were never the same.

I know it’s an old story. I know it’s a familiar story. But I truly hope that this morning we’ve heard it again, like the first time. And that in our listening … and that in our embracing of truth we might come to know the One Who’s birth we celebrate.

Merry Christmas and Godspeed.



20 December 2007


One of the things I love about Christmas is gathering together into warm spaces with God and with people I love and have genuine relationships and connections with. These gatherings happen at home, at church, at special Christmas programs, and in ways unplanned and serendipitous. I love how God gives us invitations into His presence, opportunities to hear His voice, chances to increase our intimacy with Him and obedience to Him.

It’s always seems odd to hear people pray, “Oh God, please be here with us.” Like God could stay away from the people He loves (which includes all of us). What we need to pray is, “Oh God, help me be here with You. I don’t want to let the burdens and the distractions of my life shift my focus off of You and onto me. Help me center my heart, my mind, my thoughts, my emotions, and my will, onto You … so that my awareness of Your presence, and my sensitivity to Your voice and Your leadings in my life will increase and not diminish.”

As the shepherd of the flock called 2nd Street Community Church, it's my prayer that we'd give one another, and God, the gift of our presence … p.r.e.s.e.n.c.e.

The Christmas story begins in LUKE 2 ... "And it came to pass …"

That’s one of my favorite phrases in the Bible. Whatever we're feeling, whatever we're going through, it will come to pass. When Jesus came to earth, the world had been waiting for and looking for God’s Messiah for centuries. And then He appeared. And from that moment on, everything before Jesus was born is referred to as BC and everything that’s happened since Jesus was born is referred to as AD.

Jesus is the person Who’s very existence cut all of time in two. Maybe you saw the cartoon called "Bizarro" in the Friday, 14 December 2007 edition of The Oregonian newspaper. A teacher is standing at the front of a school auditorium stage and announces, “And now, we present this year’s sanitized, politically correct, holiday play, ‘Mary And The Magic Baby’”.

Gang, I'm so glad we don't have to talk about Jesus that way. Jesus isn’t just a fable. Jesus isn’t just a charming myth. Jesus is God’s Son, Emmanuel, God With Us. Jesus, is the One The Old Testament prophet Isaiah named “The Prince of Peace, the Mighty God, the Holy One.” (ISAIAH 9:6)

Jesus Christ is the One we long to press into. Jesus Christ is the One Who alone, can change the course of our lives and give us beauty for ashes, joy for sorrow, healing for pain, and hope for despair (cf., ISAIAH 61:3). Let’s open the eyes of our hearts up to Him so that we’re able to say …

“I was discouraged. But then it came to pass, that the hope of Jesus Christ met me and I was restored.” “I was filled with doubt. But then it came to pass that the story of Jesus Christ connected with me, and I became less bewildered, and a lot more amazed.” “I was anxious and worried. But then it came to pass, that the peace of Jesus entered me, and helped me become centered and grounded.”

So let’s offer God the gift of our presence … p.r.e.s.e.n.c.e. And let's invite Him to bring to pass His plans and His purposes in our lives. Godspeed.



08 December 2007


I've been writing letters to friends lately. This one connected with a conflict one of my buddies is having with one of his three daughters over she and her husband becoming Mormons.

He didn't raise her within any church or to embrace any belief system other than what he'd probably call "compassionate humanism" ... and yet now he's struggling with her decision to follow a path different than the road he is not traveling. I thought that some of the things I shared with him might be helpful to others who are trying to salvage important relationships that are in the midst of crisis. Godspeed.




Dear old friend,

I've read and re-read the emails you sent me. Family dynamics are complicated realities. Triangle relationships seldom bring us the unity we long for, because what is shared between two tips of the triangle is then left unshared with the third tip, all parties are left feeling superior, excluded, judged or untrusted.

But, regardless of what you "believe" about what your daughter and her husband "believe", you now have a choice to make. And the choice begins with asking answering the following question: Do I want to have a relationship with my daughter and her family?

If you do, then you must set up simple boundary of "not sharing/discussing your religious beliefs, or your lack-thereof with one another -- and this must happen both directions -- from her to you, and from you to her". For this to work the focus of your connection, your conversation, your life-together must remain on children, jobs, hopes, dreams, memories of days gone by, and hopes for the future.

It may be hard for your daughter and her husband to honor this request (or for you, for that matter, you blabber-mouth!), but with time you will learn to live within these boundaries in ways that honor one another's beliefs without leaving your relationship more superficial than real.

Challenges abound for sure. But if you want a relationship with your daughter you must walk down this road. Period. Her church may woo her away from family members who mock and frustrate them in living out their religious beliefs. But in my experience, they will seldom if ever ask their members to go down this road of "shunning" with family members who remain neutral and/or non-judgement toward their beliefs.

Granted, this may be because they're acting on the belief that your neutrality on the topic implies an ongoing openness to one day converting. But there is nothing you can do about this possible motivation or response ... other than to head it off at the pass by saying at the very beginning of your own Salt II Treaty discussions that you will never convert ... but then you must also not bring this up again as ammunition when and if the communication road gets rocky.

If the answer to the question at the end of paragraph 1 is that you do not want a relationship with your daughter, her family, and to a very real extent the rest of your daughters (as they will more than likely stand in solidarity with her than with you -- perhaps not theologically, but at the least relationally) then the option you've chosen is both simpler and more complicated in ways obvious and unavoidable.

It is simpler in that you throw the relationship away much like junk mail or a fleshly captured booger. Tossed, flicked, dismissed, chucked, forgotten.

But it is more complicated in that to do away with our own children is neither natural or civil -- nor does it produce the long-term benefits we think it might. Like capital punishment's failure to be a deterrent to capital crimes, living as though one of our children is important or alive is like going to banquet, wolfing down all the food on the table, and then finding out that what you wolfed down was yourself.

Our DNA and not just our minds, are loaded with memory. And so a thought, a sight, a sound, a smell, the tenderness of a touch, a word ... all these things can bring to the forefront of our minds not only the gross injustice of a loved one cast aside, but of the cancer this act has become to your very soul. And even non-religious people like you believe in souls.

In poetry, music, essay, literature, and sacred writings, the soul is most often defined in triune terminology -- made up in equal parts by our mind (what we think), our will (what we d ecide and then act upon), and our emotion (what we feel). To shun your daughter for what she believes (even if Mormonism appears to you to be barbaric, uncivilized, untruthful, and whatever more dahmeresque terms your have floating around in your gray matter) will damage your soul.

And even if you don't believe in an afterlife, abusing our own souls is micro-managed, baby-stepped suicide ... and a self-centered choice that ultimately has very little to do with "standing for truth" in the public forum of a family discussion, and much to do with ego and control. Don't do it bro. You may not have had the greatest life-long relationship with your daughters, but don't give up. Don't burn the bridge to try and save the integrity of the transport system it represents. They and their children need a grandfather who will love them and step into their lives in ways intentional and kind.

Please don't be upset at me for writing this note and these words to you. You asked me for my advice, and so here it is. I don't want to argue with you about the individual points of what I've written, because the individual points are only as important as their relationship with the question I challenged you to ask yourself at the end of the first paragraph: Do I want to have a relationship with my daughter and her family?

If you want to talk about the question, then fire away. But I will only discuss this further with you within the boundaries of this question. You might come up with different answers than me, but nothing your mind can conceive will be more mission-critical to finding your way through this muck than answering that question.

On a side--but-related-note. While reading your words and looking at some things online I found a link at www.youtube.com that I thought you might enjoy watching. It's part of a bigger conversation at www.fora.tv, a URL that if you're not familiar with, I believe you might find engaging.

I have a headache, so I'm going to go lay down. I'm glad you are my friend -- and you didn't give me the headache, even though I'd love to blame you, or someone else for it. Why is this situation with your daughter happening right now, at this chapter of your life? I don't know. But maybe, just maybe, it's to teach you things about yourself that up until now you've been hesitant or unwilling to explore.


Please give your precious bride a hug for me ... I can't believe it was over 25 years ago now that we first met. And if you come to Oregon and don't visit us I'll have to have you killed. I'll let your bride live of course, and will talk her into quickly opening an account at www.eharmony.com. Godspeed and good night to you dear one.




When you and I, as followers of Jesus Christ, really begin to understand and embrace what Jesus requires of us, then the church will actually begin the process of BECOMING WHAT THE CHURCH IS SUPPOSED TO BE. Here is some of my vision for what the church CAN and MUST BECOME if it’s going to make a difference in the world …

FIRST, THE CHURCH MUST EXIST AS A HOSPITAL … for the sick, the hurting, the disenfranchised, and those with more questions than answers about God. In other words, for people just like you and me. The church must welcome people into the flock whether they appear whole or broken, and it must have discerning wisdom about identifying people’s needs, and then come alongside them accordingly. I believe that pastors can help foster this understanding of who the church must become by modeling transparency in our own life struggles, and victories.

SECOND, THE CHURCH MUST EXIST AS A WORSHIP GATHERING … where people can learn the power of praise (the ultimate experience) and worship (the ultimate relationship) to heal, convict, restore and prune. God has hard-wired every one of us in His creation for worship … whether we’re in a relationship with Him or not. Worship needs to be defined broadly, not narrowly, including singing, silence, prayer, first-person testimonies, drama, video, poetry, painting, instruments usual and unusual, and more. There are all paths we can walk to make worship part of our lives. Worship that doesn’t lead to sacrifice is false and must be avoided at all costs.

THIRD, THE CHURCH MUST EXIST AS A SCHOOL … for those who want to learn more about who God is and how the truths of God’s WORD are relevant to their lives. For this to happen, pastors need to teach the whole counsel of God. When God’s WORD is taught verse-by-verse, people are drawn into a God-directed desire to pursue and grow into the character of Jesus Christ, so that they can live into the will of God.

Jesus, Peter, John and Paul all teach in the New Testament that in the last days false teachers will come into the flock to wound, steal and destroy believers. Pastors must remain very aware of this reality. Pastors can help their churches grow in an understanding of and WHO and WHAT the church is called to BE and DO by modeling study, the spiritual disciplines, and by teaching from God’s WORD in ways that challenge, encourage, equip, prune, and lead toward Christ-like maturity.

FOURTH, THE CHURCH MUST EXIST AS A RETREAT CENTER … where people can “come away from the world” and find safety, encouragement, community, and refreshment. Community groups, Bible studies, prayer gatherings, retreats, and gathering together on Sunday mornings are all parts of who and what a church needs to being and doing if it’s going to focus on how God wants to connect the healing, equipping and vision God offers during these times to transform us more fully into the family-likeness of Jesus Christ, so that in turn, we can change the world.

FIFTH, THE CHURCH MUST EXIST AS A SENDING STATION … where people are sent out into the world to be the presence and the voice of Jesus Christ. Pastors need to model this commitment to a MISSIONAL LIFE of outreach and service by participating in short-term missions trips, not just talking about them, and by supporting local missions with their time, money, and spiritual gifts.

And finally, here are two things the church will DEFINITELY NOT BE when followers of Jesus Christ understand that being yoked with God is about surrendering to Jesus Christ as the King of the Kingdom of God, and to His moment-by-moment plans for our lives …

FIRST, THE CHURCH DOESN’T EXIST AS A COUNTRY CLUB OR A CHIT-CHAT GUILD … where only certain people with the right education, the right job, the right income, or the right past, present or future can get in. The church is not to be a place where people gather to share superficially about who they know, what their great accomplishments are, how well put-together their lives and the lives of their kids are, and where their next whirl-wind vacation will take them. Humility, honesty, and a Holy Spirit-led care for and attentiveness toward others must be guiding principles in our life together as the body of Christ, the church.

SECOND, THE CHURCH DOESN’T EXIST AS A PERFORMANCE VENUE … where only “highly polished” people with the right “qualifications” or skills can participate. God is looking for FAITHFUL people more than He is looking for people who think they’re QUALIFIED to do anything for Him.

There’s an old saying that “There’s no perfect church and that if you find one, don’t go there, because you’ll ruin it!” I like that. But I also have great hope about the church … and I believe with all my heart that God can use imperfect people to build His church.

In ACTS 17:6 the Early Church is described as being "the people who were turning the world upside down" (NEW LIVING TRANSLATION). Friends, this is the kind of Christ-community I long to be part of. Godspeed.



06 December 2007

An excerpt from a letter written to an old friend ... it's waxing a bit eloquent for how I usually think and write, but I thought that some of you might find it interesting. He has gone through a rough path of road this past year, and so much of what I write is to encourage him to look at his life through some new glasses. At the end of the note I tell him of two new "conjoined" words I've come up with lately, and invite him to let me know which one most buoyantly floats his boat.

Wednesday night
5 December, 2007

Good to hear from you old friend. Not to be too nit-pickety, but there's a pretty big difference between someone being self-absorbed, and someone offering themselves (and the ones they most dearly love and who most lovingly need them) self-care.

I don't want to deny you the joy of abasing yourself. But I want you to feel like you can cut yourself yourself some slack without buying into the lie that self-care is the quickest route to narcissism. You are many things, but self-absorbed isn't one of them.

Chapters of our lives have different levels of involvement with one another -- different sea-wall markings of time invested, burdens shared, and souls welded together and torn apart. And while we've been a bit sporadic in this last chapter, LOVE, the thing that separates duty from real friendship, has never gone missing. It's been quiet, but it's not lost.

So tell me of your loves labors lost, of your rickety bows stressed, and of your tempered timbers strained. Sing to me of your valiant joy, your seas crossed, and you miracles uncovered and lived into. Strum me melodies of hopes built on faith not sight, harmonies of vision rooted in spirit not just mind, and chant to me the digery-doo low tone sagas of foundations tried, tested and found to be true -- life stories no less epic than Homer.

I believe that in your cottage, nested warm and centered near the hearth, your lover, and your enchanted retriever, there are new poems waiting to be written, and new dances that will someday come to life with feet and hearts both fully alive.

E.M. Forrester isn't the only one who saw the tangledness of love, the serendipity of coincidence, and the pied glory of dreams dreamed and fully-blossomed.

Alice Walker isn't the only one whose words turn purple from adjective to noun, and then to verb -- and whose imagination sees redemption as strong as a monolith, as deep as a cravass, and more undeniable than our own laps.

Van Morrison isn't the only one who has moondanced his way from melancholy to mirth, and from hating God, to loving God.

Bill Monroe isn't the only one who taught strings to jump over the moon whether plucked, caressed or romanced.

In you I see these same things ... love, dreams, imagination, redemption, transformation and stubbornly ornery godliness that refuses to say that "the end is the end", until of course, it is "the end" -- at which time, of course, "the end" will most likely become a "new beginning."

T.S. Elliot's quartet is now a quintet -- for you have joined it, and him and me, and God and others of like-hearted ilk who are willing to see past the foolishness of standing on the sidelines motionless when we can be stepping out a polka, wailing a bit off key but with the gusto of a newborn, and believing that in spite of what all our circumstances may proclaim that God is real, that we can know Him, and that the Creator of the universe is nuts about us.

I love you old friend. I do. Don't forget the days gone past when your dreams turned into non-fiction. For these days can and will happen again.

To close, and in the spirit of all things conjoined, I offer you two new words this night. And I beseech you to let me know which one your heart and mind most impulsively coax you to embrace.

The two root words of these alphabetically-altered-articulus are opportunity and responsibility. And the two new conjoined words (drum roll please), are ...

opporbility or responsitunity

I anxiously await your prompt rescript, complete with rationale. Godspeed and good night.



17 November 2007


This past week someone from the flock I shepherd at 2nd Street Community Church asked me about why I teach God’s WORD the way I do on Sunday mornings. And so I thought that today would be a good time to share with you a little bit about why I do what I do the way that I do it.

The comment came from someone who in their past church experiences has been used to what is commonly called TOPICAL teaching of God’s WORD … which is where a topic such as LOVE, FAITH, RELATIONSHIPS, LOVING OUR ENEMIES is selected … and then a series of teachings are prepared on those topics using a variety of passages from God’s WORD … with various Bible passages used to support the teaching.

With TOPICAL teaching there’s often an introduction, one main point that is illustrated by 3-4 supporting points, and then a conclusion where the one main point is driven home, and where application is usually made to people’s day-to-day lives. That’s TOPICAL teaching.

I’m not against TOPICAL teaching. It’s just not what I’ve been called to do here at 2nd Street. Oh there will be a Sunday here and there throughout a year when I’ll share a TOPICAL teaching … such as the one I shared this past year on FORGIVENESS … and I’ll probably do another one on CONFESSION sometime during this coming year. But what I’ve been called to do is to teach God’s WORD one book at a time, verse-by-verse. And this is often called EXPOSITIONAL teaching.

The word EXPOSITION is from the Latin word exponere, which simply means to put out, to exhibit, or to explain. And in EXPOSITIONAL teaching of God’s WORD, the emphasis is not on coming up with one main point, but to teach through a passage and let each verse, each word, or each section of verses make the points along the way.

The publisher of your Bible – not the authors – added the section headings or titles you see in your Bible. They aren’t part of the original text. And they’ve publishers added section headings or titles to try and help the reader anticipate and understand the meaning of the section of God’s WORD they’re reading, focusing on, and digesting. And different Bibles divide up passages differently … beginning or ending on this verse or that verse.

The New International Version of the Bible, for example, is a translation based on ideas, not on the individual words of the verses. That’s why in the New International Version all the verses are in paragraphs with headings over each paragraph. And when a new idea, new theme, or new focus begins in the passage, a new heading appears.

But the New American Standard Bible isn’t a translation based on ideas … rather, it is a translation based on the individual words of the verses. That’s why in the New American Standard Bible each verse is it’s own stand-alone paragraph … and new ideas or themes are indicated, not by headings, but by the first verse of the new theme having a bold verse number next to it, and not a regularly stylized font number.

I use the New American Standard Bible as my main Bible to study and teach from … because it’s primary focus on the words allows the Holy Spirit to speak to me about the ideas and not the other way around. And then as I study a passage verse-by-verse, it comes alive, not because of what I’m anticipating it will say to me because of the section headings, but because of the words each author of the book I’m reading was led by the Holy Spirit to use in each verse.

Of course, I use other Bible translations and paraphrases when I study and teach … and my favorites are the New Living Translation, the New English Translation (www.net.bible.org), The Message, The Expanded Translation of the New Testament by Kenneth Wuest (primarily for Greek word studies), The Amplified Bible, and The New Century Version.

Most of the time the verses we go through have a main focus or theme. I’m not trying to avoid clarity by teaching God’s WORD the way I do. But what I love about EXPOSITIONAL teaching is that the application that goes on while I teach through a passage of God’s WORD verse-by-verse can be as deep and wide as the Nile … not because of my intellect and ability to teach, but because of God’s plan and God’s desire to instruct each of us through His WORD in the areas where we most need instruction, correction, encouragement, and equipping.

I don’t know what problems each of you are wrestling with. But God does. I don’t know where each of you is hurting. But God does. I don’t know what decisions you have to make today or this week that you need the counsel of God concerning. I just have the unique joy and responsibility of getting to team-teach with God whenever I stand before you and ask you take out your Bibles and open them up.

And I don’t have to make one main point with three supporting points, that all begin with words starting with the same letter. I just get to teach through however many verses seems right to me during the week as I’m studying, preparing and writing – and then God gets to do the application. Sure, I share some FAITH LESSONS along the way, but verse-by-verse God gets to connect His WORD with what’s going on in your life. And God gets to focus your heart and mind onto the one or two main things He wants to say to you on any given Sunday. And that my friends, is very cool.

And what I’m hoping and praying is that as this happens on Sundays, that your passion for being in God’s WORD THROUGHOUT THE WEEK will blossom. That’s why here at 2nd Street we’ll always have the portion of our bulletin that shares with you the READ THROUGH THE BIBLE IN A YEAR passages for that week. It may not connect directly with what I’m teaching through on Sundays. But you know what? It will always connect with what God wants and needs to teach you throughout the week.

Will I be able to teach through the whole Bible before I have to quit this job? Who knows. Who cares. My goal isn’t to teach the whole Bible before I die. My goal is to get into the Bible and invite it to get into us in ways that transform us and draw us more deeply into the character of Jesus Christ so that we can more consistently live into, and live out the will of God.

And so that’s why I teach the way I do. All people spiritually gifted as teachers aren’t pastors. But in EPHESIANS 4 Paul makes it clear that it’s God’s plan that ALL PASTORS ARE CALLED TO BE TEACHERS. And so this is why I teach the way I do … and will continue teaching this way … verse-by-verse through God’s WORD. Last year we went through FIRST PETER and HAGGAI. Right now we’re going through JOHN … and what’s next? I don’t know. But I will by the time we’re done with JOHN. I promise. I won’t have two or three Sundays where I just stand up here silently and look dorky. Well, I might look dorky, but I do promise to not be silent. Godspeed.



12 November 2007

“A friend is a gift you give yourself.”
- Robert Louis Stevenson (Treasure Island, Kidnapped)

In our Western-World we’re rich beyond compare – even those of us who by our standards aren't wealthy. And to catch a glimpse of somebody who is really down and out, really in deep need, isn’t all that common. We insulate ourselves from that world – safe and sound in our own little cocoons.

In REVELATION 3:16, in a letter that Jesus wrote to the church in a town called Laodicea, He said, Because you say, ‘I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,’ and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked ...

And herein lies what I call THE GREAT DISCONNECT …

How others see us.
How we see ourselves.
How we really are.

Remember the story THE EMPEROR’S NEW CLOTHES? That's what I'm talking about here. We're prancing around thinking we've got clothes on, and everybody else is so impressed with the image we're "trying to project" that they won't speak up about what they "really see". How embarrassing.

And even though Jesus was referring to the spiritual condition of a church body that was missing the mark in His words in REVELATION 3:16 – these words can also really ring true for you and me as we look at the common condition of the lives of people in this world who are seeking to live apart from a living, vital, transforming relationship with Jesus Christ.

We’re all trying to fill the void of loneliness left by shattered family relationships, or by jobs that have left us less than fulfilled, or by friendships that have turned out they way we hoped they would, or planned they would, or even prayed they would.

And this reality of loneliness and disconnectedness is something that we’ve all either gone through in the past, are going through right now, or will go through in the future. It’s part of the human condition – and for many of us, it’s maybe even part of what drew us to Jesus Christ in the first place … or to the church … o even here this morning.

Sad to say, we can even find ourselves feeling alone in the midst of a flock of fellow Christ-followers. Have you ever felt alone, abandoned, with no one to turn to or talk to, even in the church? I think that we all have. How can this be among people who strive to be like Jesus on a daily basis? Maybe, the crux of the matter is that we see ourselves as being the kind of man who knows how to build true, Biblical, Christ-centered friendships, when in fact, we’re not really that good at it at all.

If we every bullied, cajoled and used our friends in one form or fashion in the world, then becoming a Christ-follower won't magically transform us into someone who knows ho to make friends and be a friend.

Becoming a Christian opens up a new friendship-making tool chest, but to fully develop the ability to properly wield these tools requires Biblical and flesh-and-blood examples of those who are expert at making and sustaining friendships. But as we learn the proper skill sets, we can go about making life-changing friendships.


Here’s what Solomon writes about friendship in ECCLESIASTES 4:9-12

9 Two people can accomplish more than twice as much as one;
they get a better return for their labor. 10 If one person falls,
the other can reach out and help. But people who are alone
when they fall are in real trouble. 11 And on a cold night, two
under the same blanket can gain warmth from each other. But
how can one be warm alone? 12 A person standing alone can
be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and
conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord
is not easily broken.

And in MATTHEW 18:20 Jesus says …

20 For where two or three gather together
because they are mine, I am there among them.


There are two major kinds of friendships modeled and taught in God’s WORD … PEER FRIENDSHIPS and MENTOR FRIENDSHIPS.

Why do we need to get into God’s WORD and invite God’s WORD to get into us? So that we can begin to take on the character of Jesus Christ (think, say, do), so that we’ll be equipped to live out the will of God.

But also, getting into God’s WORD acquaints us with a great library of character studies that prove invaluable. One of the better PEER FRIENDSHIPS in God’s WORD that comes to mind is the deep friendship shared by David and Jonathan.

And outside of Jesus and His twelve disciples, one of the clearest examples of a MENTOR FRIENDSHIP is demonstrated in Paul and Timothy's relationship.


One of the interesting aspects in putting this study together … and in looking forward to going through Erwin McManus's book CHASING THE LIGHT together this next year, is that I sometimes forget that Jonathan wasn’t some weakling who craved David's attention, but rather … he was a fierce warrior who with the help of his armor bearer killed 20 Philistine warriors single-handedly. Maybe, when David later faced down and took down Goliath, he remembered Jonathan's earlier example and was inspired by it.

Jonathan and David developed such an amazing friendship that David laments Jonathan's death with these words in SECOND SAMUEL 1:25-26

25 How the mighty heroes have fallen in battle!
Jonathan lies dead upon the hills. 26 How I weep for you, my
brother Jonathan! Oh, how much I loved you! And your love
for me was deep, deeper than the love of women!

  • Jonathan became one in spirit with David, and he loved him as himself. (FIRST SAMUEL 18:1)
  • Jonathan made a covenant with David. (FIRST SAMUEL 18:1)
  • Jonathan gave David some of his most prized possessions like his robe, tunic, his sword, his bow and belt. (FIRST SAMUEL 18:4)
  • Jonathan defied a king and warned David that his father was trying to kill him. (FIRST SAMUEL 19:1-2)
  • Jonathan interceded on David's behalf with Saul. (FIRST SAMUEL 19:4-7)
  • Jonathan improved David's lot. (FIRST SAMUEL 19:7)
  • Jonathan and David confided in one another. (FIRST SAMUEL 20)
  • Jonathan was willing to lay everything on the line for his friend David. (FIRST SAMUEL 20:4-31; 35-40)
  • Jonathan literally put himself in the line of fire for David. (FIRST SAMUEL 20:33)
  • Jonathan grieved on behalf of David for the mistreatment he had to endure. (FIRST SAMUEL 20:34)
  • David and Jonathan wept together and for one another. (FIRST SAMUEL 20:41-42)
  • Jonathan went out to David and helped him find strength in the Lord. (FIRST SAMUEL 23:16)
  • Jonathan was neither threatened nor jealous of David's success. In fact, he welcomed David’s successes. (FIRST SAMUEL 23:17)

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS … Based on Jonathan's example, what might being lacking from some of your friendships? Does the level of intimacy of Jonathan and David's relationship make you uncomfortable? Why? Why do you think Jonathan and David were so close? Do think it is possible to have friendships like this in our sanitized, fast-paced world? If so, what will it take to have friendships of this depth?

In a couple of months we’ll look at MENTOR FRIENDSHIPS … and at the friendship that Paul and Timothy had modeled this kind of friendship. Godspeed.



In JEREMIAH 9:2 The Old Testament prophet spilled his guts and wrote down that if he could have his own way he’d head for the hills … he’d run away from his family, away from his ministry, away from his problems, and away from his life! Here’s how Jeremiah’s words read in THE MESSAGE, a modern-day paraphrase by author, professor, and pastor-teacher Eugene Peterson …

2 At times I wish I had a wilderness hut,
a backwoods cabin, where I could get away from
my people and never see them again. They're a
faithless, feckless bunch, a congregation of degenerates.

Can you relate to Jeremiah’s words? Now I wouldn’t apply Jeremiah’s descriptions of faithless, feckless degenerates … to you here at 2nd Street … but I think we hear in Jeremiah’s words some of our own longings to head for the hills … the desire to get a job in a lighthouse, or drop out of life and build a log cabin with our own hands, or become a monk or a nun and live in solitude and silence … even if it was just for a little while.

King David, the Jewish King in the middle part of The Old Testament put it this way in PSALMS 55:6-8

6 I say, ‘I wish I had wings like a dove! I would fly
away and settle in a safe place! 7 Look, I will
escape to a distant place; I will stay in the wilderness.
8 I will hurry off to a place that is safe
from the strong wind and the gale.”

But running away from home … whether we’re The Runaway Bunny, Pinocchio, Alice in Wonderland, or Frodo, isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be because the reality is that as author David Seamands put it, “Everywhere we go, we go too, and that ruins everything.” Or in other words, “We can run, but we can’t hide.” And eventually, when we stop running, we’ll still be right there, with all of our problems unchanged, with all of our challenges still overwhelming us, and with all of our character defects and sins still staring us in the face.

But thanks be to God that He has provided a way for us to stop running. Jesus talked about this in the story in Luke’s Gospel commonly called “The Prodigal Son” … where in LUKE 15:17, we read that the son who’d run away from home “came to his senses and returned home to his father.”

How have you been running away from home? How have you been letting your problems and sins separate you from God and the plans He has for you? I’m glad you’re here this morning – because we’re going to focus on one of the most practical, God-centered, devoted-disciple-of-Jesus-Christ-producing ministries going on at 2nd Street, in the USA and around the world … and it’s called Celebrate Recovery.

Celebrate Recovery is a 12-step recovery program that’s rooted in the person and the hope of Jesus Christ, in the grace and truth of God’s WORD, and in creating healthy God-centered partnerships of community, trust, and accountability between people who are tired of running away from home … and who are willing to surrender their hurts, habits and hang-ups to God.

The first three steps of Celebrate Recovery can be summed up like this …
  1. When it comes to the parts of my life that aren’t working, I CAN’T MANAGE THEM, FIX THEM, OR EVEN MOVE PAST THEM ON MY OWN.
  2. When it comes to repairing the parts of my life that aren’t working, GOD CAN BRING BEAUTY OUT OF ASHES, JOY FROM MOURNING, AND WHOLENESS OUT OF BROKENNESS.
  3. Seeing and accepting that I CAN’T and GOD CAN, I CHOOSE TO SURRENDER TO GOD.
Back to the prophet Jeremiah for a minute. In JEREMIAH 11:6, Jeremiah, tired of trying to deal with his own problems his own way, invites others to join him in coming to their senses … and coming home to God as the source of their redemption and healing. Here’s how the invitation sounded …

6 The Lord said to me, “Announce all the following
words in the towns of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem …
‘Listen to the terms of My covenant with you
and carry them out! (NEW ENGLISH TRANSLATION)

Jeremiah got excited about what God’s covenant could accomplish. A covenant is a two-way vow between God and the men and women of His creation. A covenant says that if we will bring God the pieces of our busted-up lives, that He will redeem us … that He will take the shattered pieces of our lives, put them back together again, and make us whole.

And Jeremiah got so excited about this covenant that he couldn’t stay out in the country all by himself any longer. And so he headed back into town because there were things to be done, and people who had to be told this great news. And that’s why we’re focusing on the ministry of Celebrate Recovery this morning.
  1. Celebrate Recovery isn’t just for alcoholics or drug addicts who are blacking out several times a week and robbing 7-11s to support their habits.
  2. Celebrate Recovery isn’t just for people whose relationship boundaries and work boundaries have become so distorted that they’re stalking David Letterman and “this close” to going postal.
  3. Celebrate Recovery isn’t just for compulsive gamblers who are having their mail forwarded to their room at Spirit Mountain Casino.
  4. Celebrate Recovery isn’t just for sex addicts who’ve given up all hope of change, and bought an Adult Bookstore.
  5. Celebrate Recovery isn’t just for food addicts who plan all their week’s activities around when COSTCO gives out samples.
  6. Celebrate Recovery isn’t just for people who are so co-dependent that right before they die “somebody else’s life passes before their eyes.”
  7. Celebrate Recovery is for people just like me and like you.
When I interviewed at 2nd Street 18 months ago to become your new lead pastor-teacher, I had a good interview, and I had a great time with you on the Sunday morning I taught. But it was attending Celebrate Recovery on Sunday night that God used to “seal the deal” in my heart that 2nd Street was the new home He had planned or Teresa and me.

For the first eight months I was here, I attended Celebrate Recovery and God began using it as His mouthpiece for the road to recovery He wanted me to walk down – especially understanding His unconditional love for me, in spite of my ungodly devotion to most all foods higher in carbohydrates and sugar than is healthy.

For the past eight months I’ve been part of a Celebrate Recovery weekly STEP STUDY GROUP, and as a member of that group God has been helping me deal with the issues in my life related to food that up until this 49th year of my life I’d been unwilling to be honest about. And through this process God has also preparing my heart to receive the hard word a few weeks ago now that I have diabetes.

But with what God is teaching me through Celebrate Recovery I’m learning to embrace and walk in the grace and truth of the first three steps …
  1. THAT I CAN’T.
God is using Celebrate Recovery in my life and in the lives of many others here at 2nd Street and beyond. Through Celebrate Recovery, people are coming into first-time relationships with God through Jesus Christ, people are rededicating their lives to God and to His plans … and lives are being transformed. And if the definition of discipleship that I share with you so often is true … that discipleship is taking on the character of Jesus Christ so that we can live into the will of God … then Celebrate Recovery is the best discipleship program I’ve ever been part of.

Because when you do what Celebrate Recovery does … which is to take God’s WORD, and combine it with a call to ruthless trust, a passion for whole-hearted honesty, and a willingness to assume a humble, surrendered, teachable spirit … you have a recipe for discipleship.

Celebrate Recovery is for all of us who are tired of dodging, avoiding, hiding, pretending, covering, running, protecting, eluding, escaping, averting, and evading the real us and the real God. It’s for people who are “coming to their senses and coming home” …

Celebrate Recovery has become the road home for many of us here at 2nd Street, as well as for tens of thousands of other folks in Newberg and beyond. And so this morning, I invite you to ask God if Celebrate Recovery a road He wants you to travel as you “come home” to Him in some new ways.

  1. Do I have pain or shame in my life that I’m hiding or avoiding?
  2. How does a lack of forgiveness hinder my intimacy with God and others?
  3. Bondage to hurts, habits and hang-ups can cease … So if Jesus Christ, the Son sets you free, you will be really free. (JOHN 8:36 | NEW ENGLISH TRANSLATION)

I invite everyone who is able, to stand with me, and let’s close our time this morning as “the church gathered” by praying together The Serenity Prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr …

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time; enjoying one moment at a time; accepting hardships as the pathway to peace; taking, as Jesus did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it; trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His will; that I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with Him forever in the next. Amen.