Change Your Lenses

So yesterday I got new glasses for my birthday. I needed them really bad. My dog had chewed all the plastic off of one arm of my old pair and it was down to the pointy wire and I stabbed myself in the head every time I put them on.

I've had that old pair for about 7 years. I felt like my prescription was probably the same, but did the eye exam anyway to make sure. Sure enough, my eyes had held steady for the last seven years and my prescription was exactly the same. So I wasn't expecting a big difference in my vision when I put on the new pair. Boy, was I wrong!

What I didn't realize was that my old lenses were plastic and had turned a pretty significant shade of yellow. When I put on the new pair I felt like I stepped into a completely different world. The effect of the old pair was similar to viewing the whole world through a sort of sepia tone--all the colors were dull and I didn't realize it. Now I'm seeing bright, vibrant, vivid colors and it's amazing! Who knows how many years I'd been viewing a duller version of the world.

I wonder if there's some area of your life that you need to view through new lenses? Maybe it's your family or your job or your church. Maybe bitterness or familiarity or pessimism has caused you to miss out on the vibrant beauty that's right in front of your eyes. Try to change your lenses and allow yourself to remember why you loved those people in the first place. Allow yourself to hope and dream good things for those people again.

If you really have the guts, try seeing yourself through a new lens! How would we look if we could see ourselves through the lenses that God sees us through?

1 Corinthians 13:12 (ESV)
For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.


A Couple More John Muir Quotes

No synonym for God is so perfect as Beauty. Whether as seen carving the lines of the mountains with glaciers, or gathering matter into stars, or planning the movements of water, or gardening--still all is Beauty!

And regarding the damming of Yosemite's Hetch Hetchy Valley, considered by many second only in beauty to the Yosemite Valley itself:

The temple-destroyers, devotees of ravaging commercialism, seem to have a perfect contempt for Nature, and, instead of lifting their eyes to the God of the mountains, lift them to the Almighty Dollar. Dam Hetch Hetchy! As well dam for water tanks the people's cathedrals and churches, for no holier temple has ever been consecrated by the heart of man.

The Hetch Hetchy was dammed in the 1920's and is now the Hetch Hetchy Resevoir which provides water to the city of San Francisco. Ironic that a city that probably has a higher percentage of bleeding-heart liberals and conservationists than any other city on the planet, drink from the travesty that is Hetch Hetchy Resevoir.


The Wilderness World of John Muir

I've been reading The Wilderness World of John Muir: a selection of his collected work edited by Edwin Way Teale. I have thoroughly enjoyed this. I was kind of turned on to Muir by the Ken Burns documentary The National Parks. Muir is viewed by most as the original conservationist, but he was so much more than that. John Muir was also a worship leader! He led this nation in worshipping God alongside of his creation. He showed us the rocks and the hills crying out to their maker and challenged us to get out there with them and join in.

I highly recommend this book! Here's an excerpt I read today from Muir's essay titled "Shadow Lake". Early in the history of Yosemite NP, shepherds grazing their herds in the park was a big problem. They decimated the landscape and Muir fought hard (along with the soldiers stationed in the park) to keep them out. One of Muir's favorite spots was Shadow Lake (now Lake Washburn) about 8 miles from the Valley. In his essay, Muir describes the beauty of this lake in the fall. All the colors of the turning leaves and wildflowers were stunning. Few people knew about this spot, and Muir didn't tell many about it, hoping to keep it pure. Then...

On my last visit, as I was sauntering along the shore on the
strip of sand between the water and sod, reading the tracks of the wild animals that live here, I was startled by a human track, which I at once saw belonged to some shepherd;...and after tracing it a few minutes I began to fear that he might be seeking pasturage; for what else could he be seeking? Returning from the glaciers shortly afterward, my worst fears were realized. A trail had been made down the mountain-side from the north, and all the gardens and meadows were destroyed by a horde of hoofed locusts, as if swept by a fire. The money-changers were in the temple.


The Story I'm In

Chris Brogan, author of Trust Agents, is giving away 100 copies of Donald Miller's A Million Miles in a Thousand Years (here). All you have to do is blog about the impact of story in your own life. (By the way, if you're a reader, one of the best reasons to set up a Twitter account and follow authors and publishers, is they're constantly giving away books. I seriously get tons of free books this way.)

I love to think of my life in terms of story. Doing so is in itself an act of faith I think. If I admit that I'm in the middle of a story, it's also admitting that there is an Author of my life who knows how the story ends. Of course, as a Christ-follower, I'm aware that my story isn't really my story. I'm not the star. I'm just a bit player in His story.

But when I think back through my life it is definitely the more dramatic parts that have shaped who I am today and continue to shape who I'll be. I think a perfect example of this is all the different churches I've served in. I've stated before that I've served on staff at several different churches. A few were great; most were dysfunctional. Through the years I often wondered why I had to endure all those experiences. But it all became crystal-clear when I was interviewing for my current position as pastor of Living Hope Church. The elders asked me to share my philosophy of pastoring and ministry. As I began to speak and share different qualities that were important to me, the faces of all the pastors I had previously served under started flashing through my mind. I realized I was sharing things that each of these men had taught me. Even the guys that I didn't see eye-to-eye with about everything! Suddenly, I had this moment of clarity. God had lessons for me to learn from each of them before I was ready to take the lead myself. I'm sure each of them had pastors that taught them, they taught me, I'll teach others, and the story goes on.

I hope that my story is really just the middle chapter of a larger story that will continue in the people's lives that I've touched.

If you are bored with your story, maybe it's because you're not doing anything. Even though I believe God is the Author, I also believe that he won't force his story on you. Make some decisions in your life that require faith or growth or courage. You'll start to see your story come to life again!


Cultivate Generosity

I recently read one of the saddest reports I've ever read. It stated that only 3-5% of U.S. Christians actually tithe on their income. The Biblical definition of tithing is to give 10% of your income to support the work of the Lord. (A much higher percentage gives a lesser amount though.) However, we're called throughout the Bible to give a tenth.

Let me ask you a personal question. What's your attitude about tithing or charitable giving? 2 Corinthians 9 tells us that God loves a cheerful giver. Why is this important? Can't he just be happy that we're giving regardless of our attitude? Actually, no.

I think too many Christians view tithing as just another duty to God. But God's intent is not to collect dues, it is to help us cultivate a spirit of generosity and grow our faith. This is something that I think we can all get behind. Nobody wants to be stingy. We would all like to think of ourselves as generous people, right? And who doesn't want to be MORE faithful?

April 15 is coming up and the IRS is busy collecting taxes. Can I admit something? I have NEVER written a check to the IRS with a smile on my face and a warm feeling in my heart! In fact, the emotional response is usually pretty negative. I hate paying taxes! Don't get me wrong--I understand the benefit of paying taxes. I know that we get many great services and our quality of life is better because of our taxes. But that doesn't change the fact that it still feels like highway robbery.

On the other hand, I've never written a tithe check in anger. Why? Because it feels good to support what God is doing around the world! In fact, I love getting that giving report from the church at the end of the year. Not because of pride, but because I'm always amazed that we were able to give away so much on so little! That report is a tangible reminder of God's faithfulness. When we bless God, he blesses us! The money goes a little further. The appliances last a little longer. Bargains occasionally land in our laps. God provides!

We don't suffer a lot of persecution in the U.S. and I believe a result of that is that our faith is untested and weak. However, I think one of the best ways you can test and grow your faith is to grow your generosity! Take the abundance that God has blessed you with, and turn it into an exercise in faith. Make a commitment to live with less, so God's Kingdom can do more. You'll never regret it. It may not be easy or comfortable, but you'll never regret it!

Proverbs 11:24-25 (ESV)
One gives freely, yet grows all the richer;
another withholds what he should give, and only suffers want.
Whoever brings blessing will be enriched,
and one who waters will himself be watered.


Everyone Communicates, Few Connect

I'm reviewing a copy of John C. Maxwell's new book Everyone Communicates, Few Connect for Thomas Nelson Publisher's Booksneeze blogger review program. If you have a blog it's a great way to get free books.

I've always been a fan of Maxwell's leadership books. I especially enjoyed his last two: Put Your Dream to the Test and Talent is Never Enough. Regretfully, that was not the case with this latest book. I seriously couldn't finish it and just skimmed the last 3/4 of it.

When writing this book, Maxwell posted chapters online and invited stories and feedback from the public. This book is so bloated with that content and quotes from other books it is almost unbearable. It feels like there is very little original content here. In fact, if you removed all the outside stories, quotes, anecdotes...if feels like Maxwell's original content wouldn't amount to more than a pamphlet.

I realize that Maxwell's writing style has always leaned heavily on anecdotal material, but this somehow felt over the top. John Maxwell has written dozens of truly excellent books, but you can probably pass on this one.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their Book Review Blogger program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”


Christ is Risen...Now What?

I've been hearing great reports from churches all over about great Easter services. Living Hope had a fun, record-breaking day as well. So two questions:

1) Pastors/Churches: What are you doing to follow up Easter this weekend?

2) Church-goers: Will you re-invite your friends again this weekend? (I say hit'em up again. Don't wait till Christmas to invite them back!)


Deep Church

I recently finished reading Deep Church: A Third Way Beyond Emerging and Traditional by Jim Belcher. If you're a pastor, get this book and read it. You won't regret it.

I've been fascinated with the whole emerging church movement for several years now. I've read tons of books about it, been on the bandwagon, off the bandwagon, etc... Like everyone in the emerging church camp, I've always struggled with feelings of disappointment in the state of the modern/traditional church. Most of the time whenever I would read an emergent author or hear a speaker, they were writing/speaking about things I was already thinking and/or trying or, at least, considering trying.

But what initially started as a conversation about changing church methodology, changed into a conversation about changing theology. That's when the emergents jumped the shark (or "nuked the fridge" I believe is the newer terminology).

In Deep Church, Belcher gives the best analysis of the emerging/traditional debate and offers great solutions for those who feel the ecclesiastical angst, but aren't interested in becoming heretics. The chapters "Deep Truth", "Deep Evangelism", and "Deep Gospel" are alone worth the price of the book. Belcher advances the philosophical points of the debate by attempting to encourage both sides to make nice and find common ground. But he also offers great practical guidance on how to develop your own "deep church".

Best book I've read on this topic and I'll be re-reading sections of it over and over I'm sure.

(One caviat: Belcher writes from a Presbyterian point of view. So you may need to think through translating some of his advice into your own tradition.)


The Wisdom of Risk

I've been reading some of John Muir's writings from The Wilderness World of John Muir. I came across a great quote from his essay "On the Brink of Yosemite Falls".

Muir is in Yosemite Valley and decides to hike to the top of Yosemite Falls (which is almost 2,500 feet tall). Of course this is before all the improvements and railings and such that you'll find there now. He literally crawls to the edge of one side of the falls to look down and finds that it's not a sheer cliff. There's a slight slope to it so he can't see all the way to the bottom like he hoped. But he also sees just a little ways below there's a 3-inch-wide ledge that he might be able to shimmy down to get a better view. Weighing whether or not the view of a lifetime was worth the danger of free-climbing on to a 3-inch-wide ledge 2,500 feet in the air, he writes this:

"If I was to get down to the brink at all that rough edge, which might offer slight finger holds, was the only way. But the slope beside it looked dangerously smooth and steep, and the swift roaring flood beneath, overhead, and beside me was very nerve-trying. I therefore concluded not to venture farther, but did nevertheless."

He later writes that the view and the thrill were so overwhelming that he couldn't sleep for two nights afterward.

I believe God calls us to similar risks often, but generally we look over the precipice and "conclude not to venture farther". Faith doesn't always make sense or feel comfortable. Muir also added this thought about that experience:

"...I was not distinctly conscious of danger. The tremendous grandeur of the fall...smothered the sense of fear..."

Translation: The reward crushed the risk! When was the last time you took a step of faith in your life and experienced a victory that left you sleepless for two nights?!

Hebrews 11:1 (NLT)
Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see.



Remodeling the Temple

I wanted to give an update to my Demons & Donuts post from several weeks ago. I became convicted that my poor health, over-eating, and lack of exercise were at it's core a spiritual issue for me. I really believe this is not just a temptation, but an attempt by the enemy to cut my ministry short.

So here's the update. In 4 weeks, I've made 3 changes. 1) I'm seriously monitoring my carb intake. This is not an Atkin's thing. It's a necessity thing because of my type-2 diabetes. 2)I've been walking with my buddy L.C. about 3 times a week and riding my bike to work once or twice a week. 3) I've put a halt to the late night snacks/meals.

The result is that for the first time since I was diagnosed diabetic I've had some normal blood sugar readings. I also had a blood pressure check today and that was normal. And I've lost about 15 lbs. This is the first time that weight loss hasn't really been my goal. My focus has been almost totally on improving my health. I feel more focused than in the past.

Thanks to Jamie for encouraging me and the menu adjustments. Thanks to L.C. for holding me accountable and the encouragement. And thanks to so many of you that have told me you've been praying for me. I'm literally just getting started and have a long way to go. I'd appreciate your continued prayers.