It has been almost two weeks.

On Tuesday the 5th of July, I was sent on sabbatical. I say, “sent,” because I probably wouldn’t have chosen to do so if I wasn’t encouraged to do so by my elders and staff. In my mind, I always pictured the pastor who goes on sabbatical is a pastor who is spent, tired and worn out. He is the pastor who is at the edge of falling apart and can’t see straight because the burden of ministry is straining his spiritual life, his family life, and his personal life. He is a pastor who can’t stand seeing another “sheep” unless it has been prepared in the kitchen and served on a plate. He is the pastor who can’t come up with anything good to preach and only opens his Bible on Saturday night when he is cramming for “yet another sermon.”  He is the pastor who is romantically involved with his secretary and hasn’t been intimate with his wife for years. He is the pastor who is going bald from stress and doesn’t sleep a full night without pills or alcohol.

I am not that pastor.

In truth, I feel like I am in the middle of a most beautiful time in our church, Epic Life. My relationship with our church family is great, I still feel creative, I love preaching and encouraging and leading. I am not worn out or not getting enough sleep, or stressed and balding, and my wife and I are enjoying a very sweet season in our marriage, this 25th year. I enjoy a good beer but believe in the beauty of one at a time. The truth be told, I don’t think I “need” a sabbatical.

But…here I am. I am finishing my second week of a two and a half month sabbatical. I have mowed the lawn two times, made two yard games, made a apple cider press, repaired my windblown fence, made a compose barrel, made a swing, cleaned my garage, split some firewood, pruned the trees in the back yard, shared meals with friends, welcomed guests in our home for a couple nights sleep, hiked Mt Rainier, paid bills, helped the neighbor and played many games and took many walks with my boys and wife. Now what?

What am I suppose to be doing?… I am studying the book of Isaiah, reading a book on discipleship, a book on creativity, a book on church planting and a healthy dose of Calvin and Hobbes, and keeping a pretty cool list of creative ideas.

Tomorrow I will be mowing my lawn for the third time.

The third time.

My first job was mowing lawns around the small town of Grangeville, ID; a town nestled in the foothills of Mount Idaho. My dad gave me the truck when I turned 15 and taught me how to take care of the equipment so I would actually make some money. I really enjoyed mowing lawns. I think I enjoy mowing laws for the same reason I am a knoller, I like things to look symmetrical or creatively unsymmetrically symmetrical.  As I mowed eight yards a week it didn’t take long for a phenomenon known only to the mowing world to take place – the dull blade.

Phenomenon – because the blade is sharpened hardened steel and it is being dulled by grass. Grass. How is this possible? I don’t know the answer to this deeply philosophical and deeply spiritual question, but I certainly can draw a life lesson on sabbaticals from it.

A lawn mower blade starts out sharp and cuts grass like a hot knife cutting warm butter, but over time and many, many, many blades of grass dulls the sharp edge. It happens slowly and isn’t really noticeable for a long time, until you look closely, and realize the grass is being thrashed and whipped not cut. A little look under that mower brings a realization the blade is so dull it probably couldn’t even cut soft butter.

What does it need? Sharpened.

How does it get sharpened? It has to be removed from the mower set on the work bench and pressed into the grinder. The grinder literally takes some of the steel off the blade as it sharpens.

There are four things I want to focus on, although I could write a book on this analogy.

Realize – A dull blade isn’t a statement on the quality or function of the lawn mower, it is but a statement about the blade – it needs to be sharpened. Often the blade is not sharpened because it is out of sight and since it is not readily seen or accessible it is left as is, which means it will only get worse. The mower itself often works just fine, but if the blade is left to get more and more dull the nicely mowed lawn will look worse and worse and the entire mower will be to blame. It would be silly to throw the mower away and buy a new one just because the blade needs a bit of sharpening.

A sabbatical allows for a bit of sharpening to happen, even though things seem great and may even be great, sharpening is still such an important part of ministry life and is very hard to do while going full throttle.  Ministry is unlike mowing lawns in that when I was finished mowing a lawn I wouldn’t think about the lawn for at least a week. Can you imagine mowing a lawn for 24-7-365? The mower will die pretty fast. Ministry is like that. There isn’t a break from the work to be done, and even though I love it so much, I am pretty sure I won’t be able to keep the pace going forever. The mower will wear out.

Pastors and the churches they minister with need to Realize a sabbatical needs to happen when the blade needs to be sharpened, not when the mower needs to be replaced.  Sharpening a blade is pretty worthless if the mower has gone on to the great yard in the sky.

Separate – Pretty simple here. To sharpen a blade, it needs to be separated from the mower.

20160716_135802

“Come away by yourselves to a secluded place and rest for a while.”

Jesus (Mark 6:31)

Jesus “often withdrew into the wilderness and prayed.”  (Luke 5:16)

Separate means to keep apart and divided. Honestly, I have to force myself to do this. I love the church community I get to minister with. But I also am being reminded by scripture that being separated is overwhelmingly important. Jesus never once told people he was tired of them and needed to get away from them, but he did separate himself from the life of ministry.

I must withdraw to the wilderness. Which means, I will not be answering emails, texts, messages, phone calls or posts. I might not even answer the door. I am forcing myself to be separate. Unless you are dying, and even then tell Averi first and she will decide if I need to know.

Jesus went to the wilderness while the people he ministered to and his friends he loved continued to live, suffer, hurt, work, worship, celebrate and die.

Sharpen – The blade needs to be pressed into the grinding stone to remove the dullness bringing a newly sharpened edge.

20160716_140143  I need to be sharpened as well. I don’t know what this looks like yet, but part of it has been being home and working on projects I have put off for years. I will be sharpened by learning from mentors, books, the Word, etc.  This sharpening will be a blessing to the church community I love, just as the sharp blade will now “minister” to the lawn, creating a beautifully manicured lawn.

Return – The “sabbatical” of the blade is only good if it returns to the mower and the lawn. And, if the separation and sharpening have been effective, the return will cut a beautiful lawn.    I am forced to assume that Jesus’ Sabbatical exits were just what he needed to continue to do what he was called to. For if we are living a life of the called we are living a different life than one we would have chosen for ourselves; that life requires Sabbatical.

 

I am trying my best to faithfully steward Sabbatical by not continuing to cut the grass with a dull blade. In this sabbatical season, I will be forcing myself to be separate, not because I want to, but because I need to. If I don’t respond to requests and communications, it’s because I have been separated.  I will continue to post a few Instagram and Twitter thoughts, which get shared with FB, but I won’t be checking in to see who “Like” those posts. I will separate, be sharpened and then may I return fully sharpened and equipped to mow the lawn of life well.

This is…

Posted: May 24, 2016 in Uncategorized

A short poem in response to Romans 7:14-25

Oh what lurks in the

Shadows of my heart,

Waiting for the moment

To tear me apart.

My spirit looks up

My flesh looks down,

I’ll raise my cup

But, to sin I’m bound.

I long to drink

The cup of righteousness,

But my flesh takes hold

The drug of darkness.

A new creation I have become

So why to wrong do I succumb?

Living well and right is

What I desire,

But my flesh calls out

And sets me afire.

Jekyll and Hyde

Are warring inside,

And rending the fabric of my soul.

Kill the one, Kill the other

My fighting, Twin brother.

And rending my fabric in the cold.

But I have been set free

And the powers that be

Have no control over me.

Letting the Spirit guide

Eliminates the pride

No power to cyanide

No condemnation

      for those who are called,

His power has freed me

      from the enemy of the fall.

Cursor

Posted: January 2, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

The cursor, blinks

Beckoning me to feed it letters, words, sentences, paragraphs, thoughts.

It calls to me

Feed me

What shall I feed the cursor?

Just letters, jumbled together in meaningless form?

Are the words that form under my fingertips mere cursor fodder

With no thing of depth

Of substance

Of purpose

Of circumstance

Of right-ness

 

The cursor beckons to me

I answer

 

Why has God chosen me to place these words here?

Am I taking the cursor seriously?

Do I consider the strength of what I write and say?

The power of words

Even more God’s words to his people.

I must consider well

What I feed the cursor

For it cannot be ignorant

It cannot be thoughtless

It cannot be empty

 

I am responsible to listen to the Holy Spirit

And feed the cursor with only the words the Great Word Smith

For the only words that will fill the cursor

Are the words from the Word.

A Merry Selfie Christmas

Posted: December 25, 2014 in Uncategorized

A Merry Selfie Christmas,

We live in a generation that gives us more options to be selfish than ever before. We can tweet 140 words about our lives, post a status update to our wall,  instagram a photo of the meal in front of us and selfie our world with cameras that focus towards us. There was a day that the camera only focused on others, but now they have turned to focus on the most important person on earth, central figure of our journey, the very being the universe circles around.

Me.

I am number one and everyone else are just supporting characters in my narcissistic world view. I am the hero of my story and frankly the hero of everyone elses story. I actually believe everyone else revolves around me. Their stories aren’t about them but about me. 2 Tim. 3:2 makes it pretty clear that, “people will be lovers of themselves…” and that love of themselves will be what divides and destroys society.

Our egocentric world view creates a system and a society that wreaks havoc on everyone and everything. Even our actions of helping others are but facades of our own mercenary of self indulgence as we trick our own soul into helping others for selfish kick-backs.

This isn’t our fault. Right? Every advertisement we see, every expression in the media we are accosted with tells us that we are to take care of ourselves and that we are to want it “My way.”

We are told, repeatedly, even brainwashed to believe that the selfie driven impulses of our souls should be acted upon. We should get what we want, even demand it to be so.  And, if the insistence doesn’t work we are taught that we should wage war to get what we believe we deserve.

What do we deserve?

Happiness?  No, but the pursuit of Happiness.

Food? No, but the access to food.

Love? No, but the space for love.

 

We are a people who love others so that they will love us. But we have been called to love others even when they hate us.  We tell others that we love them, but when that love and affection isn’t reciprocated we stomp off in a huff and dream of finding a new lover, one who will love us the way we need, want, desire. What we are really looking for in a lover is a prostitute who will fulfill us in the ways we tell her to, but without paying her to do so. Maybe, if we are honest we are really looking for a love slave.

We love the concept of a loving God, but hate it when we feel he isn’t loving us the way we want him to.  The only way we can be happy with a vending machine god is when we come to him with our self focused request, push the correct buttons and out pops a love cola, or an answer to our prayer.

Then we turn the corner of the Christmas Season after a vain-glorious year of selfie infused autobiographies and try our darnedest to give gifts to those second cast characters of the movie of me and find it hard, because we don’t know them. We only know them through our own eyes, our own lenses of what they might want, based on what we want from them.

Quickly we realize this gift giving perfunctory performance at Christmas is doomed for failure, because nothing satisfies the selfie soul in all of us. The gifts end up being empty.

Hope in what we will get fades quickly and is discovered to be empty.

Joy we so desire is wrapped in the paper thin facade of unfulfilling gifts.

Peace we pray for is only an empty calm in the ignoring of conflict.

Love we so deeply desire is blocked by our own incessant appetite to snap a selfie and share it with the world.

 

And our souls heave with deep angst. We sit amongst the heaps of shredded cheap and Santa Claused wrapping paper and empty boxes of empty fulfillment wondering what we have just accomplished. Was this past month of buying, worry, traffic, and hope worth it. Did it satisfy the soul? Is this really what Christmas is all about, is it over before it really began?

We hear people say that “Christmas isn’t going to come this year.” Which often means, “There won’t be very many presents.”

I have news for you. Christmas can’t, by definition, come. Christmas doesn’t and can’t do anything on it’s own. Christmas isn’t a physical package bearing being that can walk into your holiday and shower you with gifts.

But there is one who can. There is one who can fulfill. There is one who can bring dreams to reality. There is one who can bring light into darkness. There is one who can transform hearts of stone to hearts of flesh. There is one who can bring death life.

 

Jesus.

 

Christmas is but a celebration that belongs to Christians who understand the value of the Sent Savior and Risen Lord. There is no selfie album in the Kingdom of God.

What if we let Christmas do something new to our souls this year? What if we allowed the celebration of the birth of the King to transform our attitude towards the life we live. What if our attitudes made a difference in world and the responses of those around us? What if we gained influence in an influencial city for the Glory of Christ Jesus.

But is it possible to change the course of society; a society that is recklessly careening towards chaotic doom? Can we make a difference? Maybe we can’t change the planet. But we can bring change to those who are close to us. One by one. Neighbor by neighbor. House by house. Street by street.

 

Think about the so called first Christmas. In a place of zero influence.

 

Prophecy was spoken

The time was right

Waiting was over

Bethlehem was prepared

Mary was chosen

The Angel presented

Joseph answered

The Gift was given

The Virgin was pregnant

A Journey ensued

The Rooms were full

The Stable was entered

The Savior was born

In the Manger he was placed

No Cameras, No lights, No Royalty

Humble circumstances, A quiet Gift

Silent Night, Holy Night.

 

A Star shown bright

Angels Sang

Shepherds knelt

Wise men worshipped

 

Silence

Jesus came to fulfill God’s promise to us.

Not because we deserved it.

Not because we had been found faithful.

Not because we prayed to the vending machine god to come and rescue us and fulfill our every desire.

 

But because God promised to rescue us even when we hated him.

He sought us out, when we had our backs to him.

He searched for us, when we were hiding from him.

He would call out for us when we were muffling our ears.

He would run after us while we were running away.

His album is full of pictures of us, while we were filling our album full of the latest selfie posting.

When we realize the greatest gift ever given was Jesus our eyes turn outward and our photography becomes about others.  We realize that the latest selfie is but an empty apparition of the past, but the photo taken of others creates the future and fulfills the soul’s longing.

We become a people who influence an entire generation to turn towards the creator God, the true center of the universe, the real main character of the story of earth.

When the story of Christmas is told this year, may it tell the tale of you turning the camera around. Instead of celebrating yet another Merry Selfie Christmas, may it be a Merry Selfless Christmas.


You can’t do that if you have never received the gift of Life from the King.

Is Peace possible?

Posted: December 18, 2014 in Uncategorized

I am understanding that peace is not the opposite of conflict. Peace is actually best understood through conflict.

Humanity has for centuries, if not from the beginning of time, longed for and sought after the illusive concept of peace, but has never really found it. They have, although, found some intense angst in deep conflict. Reaching for the fruit hanging from The Tree, Eve was actually seeking fulfillment. Instead of reaching towards Jesus for that fulfillment, the only fulfillment that could actually fulfill, she reached for a facade of fulfillment with the help of a twisted truth from the serpent. And tripping down through the generations man has sought clumsily after a distant and foggy perspective of peace but never stumbling onto it.

One reason peace is so illusive is because we don’t even understand the true concept of peace. We wrongly define peace as the opposite of conflict, as in, “If there is not conflict then there will be peace.”  But the truth, is conflict is a prerequisite of a peaceful moment. Without the precursor of conflict peace cannot exist. Don’t get peace mixed up with pacifism. Just because there is not conflict doesn’t mean peace exists.

We can ignore problems and call it peace. But to really experience peace we must deal with conflicting points of view. We must enter into conflict and deal with it, which happens through trust. Peace must be fought for. Peace must be pursued.  “They must turn from evil and do good; they must seek peace and pursue it,” 1 Peter 3:11. Peace must be taken forcefully. Peace cannot be achieved by ignoring problems. Peace is achieved by vigorously noticing, seeking out, the problems and then dealing passionately with them. We may not agree with each other in the end, but through understanding each other we can come to a better sense of peace.

We must know the ultimate peace we long for was achieved through Jesus entering into the greatest moment of conflict the universe will ever experience. The outcome was peace, beyond our understanding. A peace that brings harmony in our soul with God allowing for a pervasive peace in the midst of and through all problems.

Peace can be known, but only if Jesus is known.  Could it be that the greatest amount of conflict creates the greatest amount of peace. The greater the conflict, the greater the peace. Let’s add to that; when conflict is entered into with selflessness peace becomes possible. Can humanity discover peace? Is it even possible? I don’t believe it is without Jesus’ selfless and dangerous act.

I have been involved in two conferences since Monday down on the beaches of the Oregon coast where the beauty of the land and sea co-mingle in a rush of the miraculous.  The salt water washing the sand of the expansive shores only inches deep, giving its tide only to receive it back again to churn and roll in a never ending white noise; giving, taking, rolling, foaming, and then again, and again.  The incrediblely flat shores often give way to towering rock monuments bearing the names of what they charade – Haystack and Needles.  Every chance I received between sessions I would be wooed by the sirens of the sea to join them, so I would obey and leave the conference center heading towards the surf. I brought out the skim board I constructed in my garage bearing a flying dragon penned by my oldest son.  Throwing the board down, running, jumping and landing to skim across the thin coating of sea water for 30 yards, creates a joy I can’t explain. I don’t think it is actually the gliding I enjoy as much as the fact that I can actually accomplish the task of skimming at my age.

This much coveted time in the sun and on the surf mixed with the conference speakers echoing in my mind has been so good.  Refreshing. Healing. Good.  When I am alone like this I am confronted with silence. A silence in my soul.  Through which my Lord speaks. I have heard many times this weekend the same theme.

Prayer.

I do pray…without ceasing. I pray a lot. I plead to my God for the safety, protection and souls of my sons. I pray for my wife so many times throughout the day I lose track. I pray for our Church and their confidence in the King. I pray for God’s miraculous and abundance and the transformation of Seattle itself. But is there more?  Prayer is like the line between the land and sea; miraculous.  There is amazing beauty in the land, wonders that are unbelievable, majestic, and awe inspiring. There are equally amazing wondering in the great expanse of the sea, which is so overwhelming incredible.  But that place between the terra firma and the big ponds brings the two wonders together in a third wonder. A place that connects, but lives with its own identity; its own miraculous; its own beauty.

We can know only the land. We can know only the sea. Or we can know the bringing together of the two.  If our mortal lives are represented by the Land and the spiritual is represtented by the Sea, Prayer is represented by the Shore where it is all brought together.

Prayer.

Pray and experience a miraculous like you have never before. Spend time on the shoreline of the mortal. Pray.

Remain

Posted: January 29, 2014 in Movement
Tags: , , ,

I just spent this past weekend in Dallas, TX at a church that was I familiar with as a child.  My parents would listen to the pastor of First Baptist Dallas, Dr. Chriswell, on the radio in our home in the mountains of Idaho. But what I knew of the church was far from what I learned about the church on this particular trip.  As I arrived in Dallas, my expectations of this large church in the heart of the city, tucked down in between the sky scrapers, was that it would be locked into a 1950s tradition that I would not be able to relate to or even understand.  I also figured they would not understand me and our mission in Seattle as a church planter called to move to a city that did not like and surely didn’t want the message of Jesus.  I thought it likely Epic Life Church and FBC Dallas would have little in common, except the name of Jesus. 

I was wrong. And what I found to be similar surprised me.

I caught a bus to the car rental complany, flashed my driver’s license and headed to my car the church had reserve for me. I headed straight to the hotel, a valet parked my ride, I checked in and caught the elevator to the 17th floor to 1722, all taken care of by the church.  As I entered the room late that night the city lights were singing the praise of man’s great achievements in building expansion and the creative process the Master Creator has allowed us to experience. I tossed my suitcase on the king-size bed, walked around the desk and pushed back the curtains across the entire Western wall to gaze out on the towers of the city. Below me came the lights of FBC Dallas, which covers 3-4 city blocks, squished between several 60 story buildings. 

My stay was wonderful.

I came to find out that just a few years ago FBC Dallas came to a crossroad.  Their buildings were old and decrepped, actually falling apart from 140 years of use. The city had changed dramatically and literally grew up around them. Should they sell it off and move to the suburbs? Should they invest millions into ancient buildings? Should they demolish it all and start from the ground up right there in the heart of the city?

One thing I have learned on this road of church planting is the state of the ‘Church’ in Seattle and other major cities in our country.  As cities grew around the original churches and business and buildings moved in around them the norrmal thing for the congregates to do was to move their families to the suburbs and commute to their church in the city. As the price tag of  ministry grew for the church and lure of the worth of their land, they would sell the property and move the church to the suburbs, where their people live.  This of course left major spiritual holes in the city.  Seattle has the same problem, either the churches have left or the buildings are still present but with only a handful of members.

When we started Epic Life Church, the planting team determined to Stay. We knew God called us to start a church in the city of Seattle and we knew we had to find a way to remain in the city of Seattle. Ministry in the city is expensive and, like is common, people tend to drift out of the city because of the cost of living, which drops dramatically the further away from the city center a person goes.  We know this is going to happen. How can we keep the vision of establishing Epic Life as a church of the city alive? We constantly cast the vision for our people to claim the city, to remain and to start more churches within the city limits. Longevity will speak volumes to the people of Seattle as well, and bring about a certain level of trust in the Church, and will result in trust in Christ Jesus.

Back to FBC Dallas. What have they done? They have done what few churches have done, or have done well.  FBC Dallas chose to remain in Dallas and remain Big!  They chose to implode several building and rebuild a building that is a beautiful center piece of the city. It is truly beautiful and I think will become a testimony to Dallas that the Church is here to stay. They didn’t do the easy thing, which I think would have been to move to the suburbs, find a large track of land and build a building that would have cost lots less and maybe would have attracted more people. They did the hard thing, they claimed the land in the center of the city for Jesus. It is a beacon of hope for the city and has become a stop on the tourism trail in the city of Dallas.

But even more FBC Dallas is surprisingly extremely missional in their perspective and giving. Now I am sure this is a constant push and possible battle, but the leadership and people that I met were very encouraging to me as a church planter and the church supports dozens of works around Texas and the world.  The ministry personnel loved on me, encouraged me and exhorted me to Pastor well. It is a surprised blessing to now minister with a church who understands the important vision of reaching the City for Jesus, which requires us and them and hopefully more churches to Remain.