Thursday, December 25, 2008

merry christmas

Merry Christmas, all. Hope you had a bright one.

The Re Gifter show was Big Fun. If you missed it...well, you missed it.

And then the donut outreach on Christmas Eve was awesome. My favorite was a sushi bar we went to. I'll tell you about it later.

God is good. Don't ever forget that. Or, donut ever forget that.


Monday, December 22, 2008

christmas kremes

Let's go outreaching! Be at VCC at 5pm. We'll sing, light candles and then deliver 24,000 Krispy Kreme donuts to people who have to work on Christmas Eve. Whoohoo!

the problem with christmas

The news story of the Christmas season in Cincinnati has been a devastating accident with our friends at Crossroads Community Church on the first night of their Christmas production. One of their performers fell from a flying harness and was in critical condition through the night. She passed away in the morning. A couple from our small group was at the production and shaken; they called us immediately. I was at the Vineyard at a run-through for our {Re}Gifter show. Our crew prayed for everyone. I emailed Brian Tome, pastor of Crossroads, as soon as I got home just to let him know we were praying for him, his team and the community there. I can only imagine the pain, the second-guessing, the what-ifs, the questions. I have one simple guiding principle: when one part of the Body hurts, the whole Body hurts. The next couple of days some of our pastoral staff and volunteer prayer team members were at Crossroads to be available, to practice “with-ness”.

On Friday, one of our volunteer bass players, a young guy named Trentin Manning, died in a car accident driving to a gig in Toledo, Ohio. Trentin was a talented musician, recently interviewed in a national musician’s magazine, full of life, full of worship, full of promise. I loved watching him play.

Saturday night there was an armed robbery at a Best Buy next door to our campus. The police showed up at our Student Union during our high school and middle school celebrations and did a lock-down for safety reasons. Parents were a little freaked, but everyone was okay.

Last night I was in the hospital until 2am with a VCC person who, without going into details, is in a very desperate place emotionally.

What a strange week.

As a communicator, it creates an odd emotional context for the delivery of the message of the beauty and power of the Incarnation. On one hand, you’re painfully aware that Christmas for some people will be seen through a particularly clouded lens for years to come. What is intended to be a joyous time becomes a reminder of a loss, a pain, or a moment in history that has claws attached. As a friend of mine who’s been divorced for years told me: “(we) fight loneliness all of the time but this time of year it is our personal tsunami.”

On the other hand, there is The Big Message: Light has come into the darkness.

It seems to me that the only way we can shout that message honestly is by allowing the light to shine into the darkest memories, the darkest moments, the darkest present times of our lives. Perhaps we create “counter” memories to reboot our OS. Perhaps there is an “embracing of suffering” that creates a sharp, empathetic outward-focus. Perhaps sheer declarative trust, as when the Psalmist boasts: “Lord, you have brought light to my life; my God, you light up my darkness. In your strength I can crush an army; with my God I can scale any wall.” (Psalm 18:28–29 NLT).

Really?—an army? any wall? You have to admire that kind of “My dad can beat up your dad” talk; it’s got to have a spiritual endorphin effect. This psalmist has experienced something that causes him to brag on his God.

Or perhaps we simply have to figure out our own extremely unique connection between personal pain and God.

One thing for sure: if we hang on to the Truth through the night, I think it makes our message more authentic in the day. And probably more potentially attractive.

Merry Problematic Christmas, everyone.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

search-and-rescue operation

In this Salvage series, this past weekend’s topic was “Recovered” (my teaching cohort Joe had spoken on restored and recycled previously). For us at the Vineyard, typically when we hear the word recovery, we tend to think of our indispensible Growth & Healing ministry because it’s such a huge part of who we are and how we think. Based on our last stats, a large percentage of our adults have benefited from our recovery ministry. Plus, it was reinforced in the Reveal survey we did: we were off-the-chart with emotionally troubled folks. Let’s hear if for the “attractional leadership” theory!

When we talk about our recovery ministry, it means rediscovering our wholeness, of finding the parts of our lives that have been lost because of abuse or hurt or divorce or our own issues and addictions or poor decisions. It means to recover your sense of wholeness, of integrity, or to find the missing pieces of your life that have been lost or ignored.

But as it relates to our relationship with God, I wanted to look at recovery from God’s vantage point, from the simple angle of “finding something that was lost”. Eventually it centered on the idea that God is in the business of pursuing us, of recovering us. The problem with a talk like this is that it can feel like over-familiar territory for pastors and priests who speak a lot. Plus, it can take on an emotional tone that can smell manipulative to me; it’s like saying, “Some of you had fathers who never told you they loved you…” Gee, you think? Or it’s like giving a prophetic word-of-knowledge at the close of a message like: “I think God wants to touch people who have fear in their lives.” Hello? All of sudden you’ve got a post-Thanksgiving Wal-Mart rush to the prayer lines.

Nevertheless, there are probably two spiritual themes that can never be hammered enough, at least in my experience: God’s loving pursuit of us and our misunderstanding of authentic repentance. They’re connected at the theological hip, but I think people tend to drown one or the other out by emotional default when they’re given equal time in a thirty minute message.

I wanted to lean more into God’s search-and-rescue mission for us. I don’t think I was wholly successful (another late Saturday night depression…), but hopefully folks will read Luke 15 for themselves and God will break through. It is one of the most remarkable, comforting and humbling theological points Jesus makes.

In his autobiography, former atheist C. S. Lewis put it succinctly, “Amiable agnostics will talk cheerfully about 'man's search for God.'…They might as well have talked about the mouse's search for the cat.”

I would have liked to spend more time on that not being solely a “pre-conversion” experience. Frankly, I’ve been pursued by God my whole life. It’s painfully easy for me to nibble away like the maverick sheep in Luke 15. I hate it. But comfort and entertainment is the bane of American Christianity. I genuinely thank God that He pursues me.

The great—and nearly forgotten—poet, opium addict and all around troubled believer, Francis Thompson, put it beautifully in his masterpiece, The Hound of Heaven. Read the whole poem someday on the www. Here’s the first stanza:

I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;
I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears
I hid from Him, and under running laughter.
Up vistaed hopes I sped;
And shot, precipitated,
Adown Titanic glooms of chasmed fears,
From those strong Feet that followed, followed after.
But with unhurrying chase,
And unperturbèd pace,
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
They beat, and a Voice beat,
More instant than the Feet:
“All things betray thee, who betrayest Me.”

I love thinking about a Father who pursues us with unhurrying chase, unperturbed pace, deliberate speed and majestic instancy. And the jealous, protective tone of a God who says: “All things betray thee who betrayest Me.”

How can love not pursue?