Tuesday, May 27, 2014


Mindful yesterday of freedoms too often undervalued and the tremendous cost it has taken to provide that freedom, we celebrated Memorial Day in high fashion that I think my uncle Earl (who served with the 743rd Tank Battalion and lost his life at Omaha Beach June 6, 1944) would have greatly appreciated: We cooked not one, but two venison shoulders on the grill, and ate the first one for lunch out on the patio.  Then the young 'uns and I took up bows and visited the Elm Creek Park archery range and had great fun shooting our way around the course.  Came home and ate the other venison shoulder for supper. Earl was all about family, the outdoors, and home -- think he would have appreciated a great day.

Sunday, May 25, 2014


I was sitting on our patio a few minutes ago relaxing after a failed attempt to organize my garage.  (It's a long story and I won't bore you with the details.) Overhead I heard a very strident bird calling, so eventually I looked up.  There in the ash tree above my head was this bird, attacking a squirrel's nest that's been sitting there since before we bought the place.

Vengeance on the squirrels, I thought.  Good deal.

But there were no squirrels in the nest.  They're probably down in my hastas, plotting ways to take over the bird feeders Julie put up yesterday.  The bird went bonkers on the squirrel nest, tearing out old leaves and flinging them everywhere, mostly on me.


I've been watching this bird for about a half hour.  My yard, my patio, my lap and my laptop are getting littered with old leaves and debris.

For all I know this bird is renovating in a big time way.  Could be she has major plans to put in a new bay window and some living room furniture.  Or maybe the current nest is not up to code and needs major work.  At any rate, what seems to her a sensible spring cleaning project looks to me like littering.  Funny how a change of perspective makes your actions look different.

Where are the squirrels, you wonder?  They're over in the other side of the tree, where they've apparently abandoned their nest for the moment for a more romantic interlude.  Wonder what they'll think when they find out what the bird has done to the old place.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Making disciples

The title of this post is getting pretty ho-hum.  Making disciples.  We all agree we're supposed to do it.  It's in the Great Commission, for crying out loud.  Of course we're supposed to make disciples.

What we've done is cheapen the idea of what it means to "make disciples."  We redefine "disciple" as "well educated Christian" or "Active church member."  We can all agree that we should try to make this kind of disciples.

But what if "making disciples" is about more than just making active church members or well educated Christians?  Two thoughts on this:

First, what if we change our thinking to match Paul's words to Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:2.  Basically Paul tells Timothy to take what he heard from Paul, dispense it to others who will be able to train still others.  So in one verse you've got four generations at least of discipleship.  So what if we took that idea and said (borrowing from Bill Easum) that our job is to "make disciples who make disciples"?  That would change things a bit.  Instead of being satisfied with well educated church members or Christians who stay busy in church we'd have to look at whether they themselves are making disciples, and whether the disciples they make are in turn spawning another generation of Jesus-followers.  The bar just got raised significantly.

Second, what if we contrast "making disciples" with what we usually do -- namely, making church members?  What if we contrast discipleship with membership?  I'm not against church membership per se, but there is (a la Mastercard) an idea that membership includes privilege.  (Look at your church policies -- do members get dibs on wedding dates, or a cut rate on building rental fees for weddings?  I rest my case.)  What if membership is secondary or even neglected, while discipleship is what's valued in the church?  How would that change our practices?

I certainly don't have this all figured out yet, but it's worth pondering.  At length.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Entrenched success

I think often about a quote from George Romney, who at the time was running American Motors.  Remember American Motors?  They produced some amazing cars, like the "Mirthmobile" from Wayne's World:

Yes, the Pacer was quite a car.  Have you noticed that American Motors isn't much of a going concern these days?

What George Romney said was this: "There is nothing so vulnerable as entrenched success."

This is a powerful statement not only for car companies, but for churches.  Because churches have institutional memory entrenched in the sensibilities of the members, we are incredibly vulnerable to what used to work.

Churches find themselves mediating between the unchanging truth of the good news of Jesus, on the one hand, and the ever-changing specifics of culture on the other.  So while the church's message doesn't ever change, the churches methods must change frequently.

And by the way, Christianity will rarely find success going back to something that used to work ten or fifty or a hundred years ago.

I'm reading lately about "radical traditionalism" -- the need for churches to delve into their past to find the nuggets of mission, the nuggets of how specifically God sent this church into the world.  Then those nuggets have to be recast for the present day.  One great example of this is churches that have grabbed hold of Martin Luther's statement about home-based worship and have recast it for the present day when missional communities (pastorates) are springing up across the world.  It's a radical way of re-appropriating our tradition.

Beware entrenched success.  It's what the railroad barons had when someone showed them plans for a gasoline powered truck, and they scoffed, saying "We're in the railroad business."  They didn't realize they were in the transportation business.

It's what the Swiss watchmakers had when, in the 1950's, someone showed them a digital watch and they scoffed.  The inventor went to the Japanese manufacturers with it.

It's what Kodak had when they rejected digital photography, believing instead that they were in the business of making film.

Nothing is so vulnerable as entrenched success.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

God is Faithful

Remember the old busy signals?  It was what you got before voicemail when you called someone who was already talking on the phone.  A busy signal.

Lately I feel a little like I should put a busy signal on several areas of my life.  Things have been crazy busy.  Apologies to those of you who check this blog on a regular basis, because lately it's been pretty quiet.

So what's with that?

Between selling the old place, buying and moving into the new place, grieving lots of established relationships and forming lots of new relationships, reflecting on the old job and working through a mountain of requirements to try to get a handle on the new job, giving up the old family routines and trying (usually unsuccessfully) to set up some new routines, it's been a little hectic.

Worth it?  I think so.  All indications are so far that this has been the right move.  It is just incredibly costly in terms of change, time, and stress. Yet it feels like the right thing.  That doesn't make it an easy thing.  Just the right thing.

Then there's the new job.  As senior pastor at Calvary, right now I'm trying to manage change in our church council configuration, youth ministry, children's ministry, worship and music programs and personnel, men's ministry, staffing relationships ... am I forgetting anything?  Probably.

These changes feel like the right things, too.  Not everyone agrees, and that creates conflict that requires more time and energy.

Here's the thing.  Jesus never promised his followers an easy life.  On the contrary, he said, "In this world you will have trouble -- but take heart, I have overcome the world."  Doing the right things might not be easy.  It might require a lot of energy and effort.  It might cost us.

But it sure beats not doing the right things.

In the last few weeks, I have signed off many conversations (especially via email, but also in person) with the words, "God is faithful."  If we are doing the right things and it's really hard, our only hope is that these words are true.  God is faithful, and he will accomplish his goals, his agenda.  We do what we can do and at the end of the day, entrust ourselves to him.