Monday, January 30, 2006

Sr. Pastors at Youth Worker Connection

I'm in Chicago at the Hyatt Hotel in anticipation of the annual Covenant Midwinter Conference for pastors. Each year I attend it as part of my continuing education and the need for connections and fellowship. The weekend just before the Midwinter is devoted to youth pastors and worship leaders. I did not attend these in the past because "they were not geared for me." Their music was way too loud, they stood to sing continually. There was too much jumping up and down.
But over the past four years I have been attending for selfish and unselfish reasons. The selfish reason is that my son, Luke, is a youth pastor in Oregon and this gives us a chance to hang out together, to room together and to eat together. The unselfish reason was that I began attending the worship connection with worship leaders, giving us a chance to learn and grow together as we explored new and varied ways of worship.
Today, Rev. Efrem Smith from Sanctuary Covenant Church in Minneapolis was the final speaker. His sermon "Youth Culture; Opposition or Opportunity" nailed me to my chair. It was a call to arms to youth pastors to engage the culture for the souls of our youth, using Acts 17 where Paul engages the culture of Athens. Efrem reminded me, a senior pastor who has had a number of youth pastors working for me, how critical it is to have heart-driven youth pastors out there in the trenches where our students are: the found and the lost. He talked about the hazzards of the job; about how easily it is to be misunderstood, devalued and criticized for "playing with" the youth.
Now I'm listening as both a senior pastor and father of a youth pastor and my heart was saying "Yes!" Then I looked around for other senior pastors, and saw a handful of us. Some with sons and daughters in ministry like me. Others because they were there in partnership with their youth staff. But way too many youth pastors were there alone, by themselves, heading back this afternoon still misunderstood and underpayed and underappreciated, but doing youth ministry because it matters.
Next year, I think I might even register as a paying participant!!

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Rick Warren & Pope Benedict XVI

This morning I read two fascinating articles about two very different, yet similar men: Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church and the new Pope Benedict XVI. Both men are surprising their respective communities by speaking out of their expected areas. In the New York Times "Beliefs" section on pg A13 for Saturday Jan 28, religion columnist Peters Steinfels analyzes the Popes first encyclical called "God Is Love."
It's a fascinating encyclical more for what it does not say than for what it does. It does not champion a number of typically Catholic causes: anti-abortion, anti-homosexuality, pro-celibacy, etc. Instead, the Pope reflects, along with his hero Dante, on the primordial thought that God Is Love. God's love is the driving force for the entire universe, for all of life. It's about reflecting and acting on the love of God that the church should focus its energy and attention. Then, in an interesting twist, the Pope said; "Religion's role must be indirect: forming consciences of citizens and countering the impulses to subordinate the common good to special inerests." Indirect is a profoundly curious word for the head of the Roman Catholic Church to use. It sounds kind of pietistic, changing hearts and minds before enacting legislation. Hmmm.
Then, later on in the New York Times I saw a reference to the World Economics Forum at Davos, Switzerland. Attending this year, along with world celebrities and decision-makers, is Rick Warren. That caught my interest so I Googled "Rick Warren at Davos" and up came a fascinating piece in the South Bend Tribune on January 19th by Paul Nussbaum. In that article he writes on the increasing influluence and power Rick Warren is having on evangelical and world leaders. He quotes Rick Warren as saying: "I'm so tired of Christians being known for what they're against. It's time for modern evangelicals to trade words for deeds. Life is not about having more and getting more. It's about serving God and serving others. Give your life to God, help others, spread the word. I'm worried that evangelicals be identified too much with one party or the other. When that happens, you lose your prophet's role of speaking truth to power. And you have to defend stupid things that leaders do."
Are these two men saying much the same thing? A church and voice freed from the confines of a particular culture or political ideology so that God's powerful and shaping word can be turned loose into people's lives?
Give your life to God, serve ohers...spread the word. Amen!

Friday, January 27, 2006


I am still reeling from my trip to the LA Auto show a couple of weeks ago. I have always loved going to car shows, hot rod shows, antique autos, motorcycles, and boat shows. The guys from church who invited me told me it was big. But I told them I'd been going the the Minneapolis Auto show for years, so I knew what big was. I didn't. This was a huge show that took us hours to go through at a good clip.
What hit me was the special building (not room... building) dedicated to "specialty cars. Spyker, Lamborghini, Rolls Royce, Maybach, Bugatti, and Bentley (I'm sure there were more, but I was too overwhelmed). All the cars began in the six figures, most over $300,000. They were cars! four wheels, seats, engines, steering wheels, roofs (mostly). They are meant to tranport persons from point A to point B. My family has always been Chevy types. Not the cheapest. Dad bought new Impalas. Theye were nice cars, but not fancy. We did not drive Oldmobiles or Cadillacs. Pastors did not do that.
When I bought a Vovlo, my folks thought that maybe I was getting a bit too fancy. But since it was Swedish and used, that would be OK. I admire styling and power. I am impressed with fast cars and well built cars. I love spending time looking at Mercedes and Audi and Porche. But all these cars, well out of my reach, were pedestrian when I walked into the specialty room.
I tried to get my head wrapped around what kind of cash flow could allow the purchase of a $300,00 car. What would car insurance be like? What are repair bills like?
I am not against wealth or success. I just don't get what an emblem like the one above is really worth? Don't cars rust? Are they not depreciable assets? How does this work? Hmmmm.
Maybe I need to look at why I use a Waterman pen and not a BIC, or why I spend $2.50 for a Starbucks and not Burger King 50 cents cups. Worth is a slippery topic. What's worth much to me is worth little to someone else. Where are my "Bentley" logos hidden away?

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Follow the GPS

I confess it. I really like gadgets. It kind of makes my wife nuts. There are always some new wires draping over something or poking out from somewhere. It's not really my fault though, it's the fault of my kids, especially my two sons. They not only love gadgets more than I do. My oldest son has given several of these gadgets to me. And hey, what can I do but use them? So I love hot-syncing my pda to my laptop to my ipod. I think it is really fun to be able to take digital pictures and configure them into a blog site like this one. Both my sons are helping teach me to podcast sermons (I'm really slow at it, but they say practice makes perfect...ouch!).
Being a midwesterner by birth and choice, California has been a strange and disorienting place. The people of the Montecito Covenant Church have been very patient with my lost-ness and clunky way of speaking street names and cities. I confess to being west-coast deprived growing up. We never studied the geography of California very much. We knew basically the order of cities from San Francisco to Los Angeles to San Diego....but nothing in between. So, in a wonderful gift of compassion, one of the church members gave a gift of a GPS unit to the church "exclusively" for my use (read; for the really lost guy!).
But hey, it's another gift and it's a really cool gadget. It talks in several languages and accents. It plots speed, distance, time to distance at speed. And when you take a wrong turn, it briefly chastises you and tehn recallibrates the route. I mean, it is fun!
Last week, one of our members had serious surgery in Los Angeles at the U of C Hospital. So I said I would gladly drive the 96 miles to the hospital for prayer before surgery (because I had the GPS). I got up before light and took off along the coast to LA. What a gorgeous drive with the sun coming up behind the mountains. The GPS worked perfectly, announcing the next turn in 1/2 miles, then increments of feet. The traffic was unbelievably thick, 6 lanes wide at times! But I did not worry so long as the GPS kept me on target. I drove by ABC studios, Disney Animation, it was so so cool! I suppose some of my fellow drivers wondered as they saw me smiling like a goof.
Soon I saw the medical complex ahead of me, just 1 mile to go. The GPS then began to announce I had to make a sharp right turn. I looked and did not see a turn, just an alley. That could not be it. There must be some mistake! I could see the medical center just around the corner, not to the right. So I switched off the GPS for the last yards....and got totally lost. I mean I got wrapped around the axel. I ended up parking in the county hospital lot designated for chaplains. Some kind hearted parking lot women pittied my "lost condition" and allowed me to park, pointing me to the real hospital (not the one I knew I saw). I scrambled through the multiple medical buildings till I found the U of C Hospital right near the "alley" I was sure was wrong. If only I trusted the GPS all the way there.
When I headed back home, this time I parked my common sense in the trunk and followed the GPS instructions through some rough neighborhoods and, what I again thought, was a dead end, right onto the freeway and directly home. Hmmm. Trusting your GPS? How about the Bible...all the way?

Monday, January 02, 2006

Aftermath of the Storm

I walked along the sand later in the afternoon with my camera and came across the guy who owned the nearest sailboat. "Will you be able to recover it?" I asked him. Wearied, he looked up at me blankly and said, "I hope so if I get some help before the tide comes in again." The boat was half filled with sand and the stern looked cracked. he had been digging most of the day and it hardly showed. The boat would probably not be seaworthy, but he wasn't giving up. Would I join him? In the fading light of the day would I go get my shovel and participate in a futile task? In the end I did not.
As a pastor I stroll the shoreline a lot. I stroll the shoreline of lives, often seeing the beautiful boats afloat out on their moorings or, even nicer, under full sail backlit by thesun. There is nothing so gorgeous as a sailboat with her sails up and filled and healed over under the power of the wind. Even sail boats at the docks or moorings can look so seren and graceful, quiet and peaceful. A far cry from the picture above; a picture of ruin and disaster, of brokenness and despair. Storms do that. So boats are in good harbors. Others have stronger anchors and better lines. And others beach and get pounded into pieces by the waves.
Storms do that to people also. But unlike the boats above, people are not totalled. People can recover, can be brought back out and patched up.

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