Sep 16, 2022

church, and Church

A friend of mine recently posted something on Facebook that caught my eye.

This is someone who was a part of the church I used to serve as Lead Pastor, and for a moment I thought it was a description of something happening in this person's life now, or perhaps a throw back to the past. Here's the post in its entirety:

The pastor says they sit front and center. The gay boys. Sometimes they hold hands. And some folks have said he should address the issue. But the pastor tells me he doesn’t know what to say. And then there’s the man who sneaks in the back door. Fresh off the street. After the service starts. And leaves before alter call. The people sitting close complain about how bad he smells. Of beer and smoke and sweat. But the pastor tells me he doesn’t know what to say. And then there’s the young mama who wears dirty skin and lets her four children come in and eat all the donuts and drink all the watered-down juice. Some church staff say they “…eat like little pigs. Like they haven’t eaten in weeks.” While the mama just stands there and lets them. And the elders say something must be done and said. But the pastor tells me he doesn’t know what to say. And there’s the whore sitting among the faithful. And everybody knows her. She sits with a painted-up face, cheap perfume, and a broken heart. And those who sit close, well, they all treat her for what they think she is. And at the last staff meeting, her name came up. Something must be done about her. But the pastor tells me he doesn’t know what to say.

The pastor is a good man. Holy and just. And he wants to do the “right and loving” thing. And he wants to “look like Jesus”. And he asks me if I have any thoughts on anything he could say.

Yes, sweet Pastor. I do.

Start with this and say it Louder than any other words:

“Welcome to Church. This is a place of love and hope and safety and forgiveness. We will be food for the hungry. Living water for the thirsty. We are so glad you are here. You are invited. You are loved. Come on in—we’ve been waiting on you. Welcome here. We are the church.”

Say that. To the called and to the called-out. To the leaders and the greeters. To the dirty and the clean. We are all the same. We are.

May we blow the dust of religion out of our souls and choose affection instead. May our words and actions and reactions be a sanctuary for all.

Jesus broke many laws ( man's law not God's law ) to love. So, Jesus, be our voice. Be the only words we should ever speak.

*copied from a friend*
Then I realized, "Ah! This is one of those copy-and-paste-it posts." 
Still, I felt compelled to reply. So I did. 

This stopped me for a moment... I honestly had a "Wait, what?" flashback.

Because during a season at Connection, there was a gay couple who came every week and sat in the center of the front row. Only we didn't ignore them, but had some amazing conversations for months... they later moved to another state.

And there was an "scented" man who came in after spending time on the street. He eventually found a church family in us and stepped into the mission.

I started to realize this wasn't a flashback, though, as we never did Sunday donuts and juice - but during VBS, we did have kids who came in needing food and worn out moms who didn't know where to find it... so we gave them an abundance of the sugary snacks and later provided bags of food from the food pantry.

As far as who the local "whore" was, I'm not sure. So let's just say it symbolically was any of us, or all of us, or just me - and we all needed to be seen for who we actually are versus what the broad stroke of chit-chat or quick summaries said we were.

I believe the same is true of church. We will find what we are looking for.

If we're looking to find reasons why it falls short, we will find those reasons.

If we're looking to find reasons why Jesus said it/we are worth giving His life for, we will find those reasons.

If we're looking for reasons to not attend one regularly, we will find those reasons.

If we're looking for reasons to take the plank out of our own eyes and grab hold of Jesus who He loves us as we are and walks us into transformation while holding us along the way, we will find those reasons.

Oh... may we determine what it is we're looking for...
or else we will find what we presume we're looking for.

"[Let us honor] the true Bride of her Husband, because she is the wife of so great a Lord. And what shall I say? How great is that Husband and of singular rank, that He discovered a prostitute and made her a virgin. Because she should not deny that she was a prostitute, lest she forget the mercy of her Liberator. How can it be said that she was not a prostitute when she fornicated with demons and idols? Fornication was in the heart of everyone; a few have fornicated in the flesh, but everyone has fornicated in his heart. And He came and made her a virgin; He made the church a virgin.* - Augustine


‘ as Christ loved the church when he gave himself up for her’. (Ephesians 5:25)

Sep 29, 2021

this is the dream

As I write this, it has officially turned midnight...

which means it's September 29, 2021.

That's my birthday. 

If you know when I was born, you know this is a significant birthday numerically. I've always enjoyed being somewhat elusive about telling people my age. I just did it again.

Keep in mind, I have no issue with my age, nor have I ever. Rather, I find that others do - perhaps because I've been a pastor for a long while, and there have been times when I've shared my age and the reaction was, "Wow, you're way too young to know anything." Other times when I've shared my age, the opposite response came out with, "Wow, you're a lot older than I thought, and suddenly I'm not sure if I can relate to you."


I'm 50 years old today.

Yep, I wrote it. It's there, in black and white. So what? Deal with it.

Maybe I shouldn't and instead brace myself for some cheesy barrage of people who want to harass me with all the exhausting "over the hill" napkins and party horns. I'm sure if that's waiting for me, the people behind it love me and assume I'd enjoy the ribbing.

The truth is... I'm excited to be 50. 

Not in a sassy, "WOO-HOO! LOOK AT ME! DON'T BE HATIN' ON ME!" rally cry. My enthusiasm for being 50 isn't artificial adrenaline, nor a shield I wield out loud to cover some insecurity underneath.

I'm 50, which means I'm on the front end of a prime time in my life.

In these next years, I'll watch my boys continue to emerge into adulthood. They're already godly men whom I wish I could grow up and become. 

Joshua loves the Lord and decided through a rather challenging year to grab hold of Jesus instead of caving into his weariness. If he was a tree and you could look inside at the rings that have been formed, this year would be a definitive circle of the storms he weathered and the rooted internal joy in Christ he claimed. I've watched him grow into an understanding of himself and his calling to ministry that I can't believe I get to get a front row seat to. He's the real deal. Yet somehow, he's also Peter Pan... and at the same time, Dr Seuss... and maybe Joshua from the Bible, too. Or maybe he's just Joshua. #Epic

Daniel likewise is solid with God, caring about others and has a compass that always points to true north. He does this not just out of morality, but out of trust, faith and surrender. I've likewise seen him be faithful during a tough year of work and as he just recently begin to intern at our church in problem solving and projects. He could be a unique pastor, lawyer, or a financial advisor, or an IT guy, or apologist, or... the list is endless... I'm pretty sure he's going to change the world whatever he goes with.. maybe through one of those roles, or maybe something else. I've watched him go "all in" every day on whatever it is he's doing, and it's breathtaking. He tenderly calls me out so I can boldly live upward. #Wow

Johanna is both a girl of God, and a tween of God, and a woman of God. She serves and gives, then gives and serves. She's exploding with creativity and wants to use it to worship the Lord, be it in art, singing, dance or otherwise. She says yes to many great things, but also knows how to turn other things down. Anytime I ask her for a favor, she's eager to do it. And... please, please, Lord... let her affection for stuffed animals, unicorns and all things people forever remain. I'm in awe of this little lady whose heart and faith are huge, and whose spontanenous house dance party moves rival my own. #Wonder #Full

Katie is still surprising me with her stretchy heart that loves me, and loves me again, and loves me again. She digs deep, confesses her emotions, reaches for Truth, blesses us daily, and finds a space in the church to place her hand and push it forward (whether or not anyone sees it). She radically loves her neighbors. She takes on new challenges. She prays and inspires. And when it's all messy, it's gloriously messy. I'm so, so thankful for her. #Bride

So what do I have to complain out?

Sure, I could make a list. I know I've had many moments where I had to. Right now, I'm choosing not to. And even when I have to again, I hope I will say this...

"This is the dream."

Lord, You're here with me. Wherever you are is Home.

Sure, I'd like some more money today and retirement funding for later. I'd like to have some different body parts or a faster metabolism. It'd be great if I wasn't misunderstood in "that direction" or overlooked in "the other direction." Maybe I could pout if I really want to.

I don't want to.

"This is the dream."

I may not be at the end of the dream, but I'm right in the middle of it. I'll trust that what I can't yet see will come in due time. Meanwhile, I'll take in what I can see and thank the Lord for it - both the aches and the awesome, the problems and the praise, the breakdowns and the breakthroughs.

I'm reminded of Joseph who had dreams from God about how one day something amazing would happen in his life. Then he was rejected by his family, sold into slavery, tempted to sin, falsely accused when he did the right thing, imprisoned and forgotten. Only at the end of his life did the final moment of the dream come true, but he was in the steps and stages of the dream that whole time.

So I will praise the Lord, regardless of the stage of the dream I am... even if it some days feels like a nightmare.

"This is the dream."

Today is my birthday. I will spend it with my loved ones who love me.

Where are you at when you read this?

Take a look around, and take it in. You are also in the middle of what God is creating that has yet to be fully revealed.

Say it with me...

"This is the dream."

Trust me. I'm 50. :)

Sep 11, 2021

everything changed

Everything changed.

I was about 45 minutes from home, taking the day of September 11, 2001 to study and spend time with God. As I heard slices of news on the radio, I made my way to a random Best Buy. On dozens and dozens of TVs, I stood among many strangers as the attacks happened. I knew I needed to go home to be with my wife and newborn son. 

Everything changed.

In the days that followed, it was the only thing on TV. Stories we were interested before now seemed "stupid" in comparison. Airlines shut down. Unifying bewilderment created unifying friendships. Churches were full for multiple weeks as people wondered questions out loud they'd stuffed down for years and returned to their roots. 

Everything changed.

Then time passed. Travel took on new restrictions. The economy was different. We weren't sure if we should root for war or against it, but knew that soldiers and front-line workers were to be our heroes. Many of us became an expert (in our own eyes) and returned back to sillier stories. Social media launched - that amplified it all. 

Everything changed.

It's been years since then - so many years, in fact, that we're more aware of the effects of 9/11 to such a degree that the 20 year anniversary sort of snuck up on many of us (be honest). We've been slugging away at being right so long that it's been a while since we've "gotten right" with ourselves, with each other and with God. We don't know when the next global "something" will happen, nor if the global "somethings" we're currently in will get better or worse. We just know that our side of things can never, never, never, never, never, never, never appear to be wrong, so we've trained ourselves to argue well and point fingers with longer endurance than our *alleged) opponents. 

Everything changed.

Centuries earlier, a Man unlike any other man walked the earth. It happened in an era of chaos in the known world as one group tried to bully another group, and countless people felt overlooked. Right then and there, in the fullness of time, this Man lived among us, yet was different than all of us. He taught, cared, healed, corrected, reset, guided... showed us holiness and grace simultaneously... and predicted His death and resurrection (and then both happened). Even as the world (and the world of everyone in it) was collapsing, He stayed on a Cross to show us another way. The impact of that Man, Jesus Christ, still can impact you today... and perhaps if you genuinely invite Him in today as your Savior and Lord/Leader, then tomorrow you can genuinely claim something new and lasting in a world full of destructive ideas, words and actions. Perhaps if you humble yourself now into Him, you can every day that follows look in the mirror and remember it, owning...

"Everything changed."

If that's a step you're open to take,
here's a next step to that big step
that changes every step:

Mar 20, 2019

concern about worry

Be concerned.

It's healthy.

Concern is clarifying.

Concern is inquisitive.

Concern reminds you of what you can spend time on.

And that guides you.

So be "concerned."

But... don't "worry."

It's unhealthy.

Worry is concern gone bad.

Worry is concern with mold.

Worry reminds you of what you can't spend time on.

And that suffocates you.
"Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?" (Jesus, Matthew 6:22-27)

Oct 3, 2018

paradoxes of relationships

Paradoxes of relationships...

1) Time ≠ Quality

2) "How I see us" ≠ "How you see us"

3) More Commitment ≠ More Belonging


4) Language -> Thoughts

5) Pursuing self -> Wanting more than self

6) Clarity -> Questions

The simplicity of community is complex

Aug 1, 2018

one year later

Once upon a time, I lived in Ohio...

I was a senior pastor...

I drove a small aqua car.

I did other things, too. I led regional serving days that brought churches together. I wrote a weekly newspaper column that impacted our region for Jesus. I enjoyed the fine menu at Smoothie King.

I'd somehow also developed friendships with amazing people from all walks of life, from the average Joe or Jane making it through their day to so-and-so's who were thinking about everybody's tomorrow.

And I kept my office in our home. It allowed me to be continually around my favorite people in the world (my family) while deepening and widening my ministry to my next favorite people in the world (God's family). Together, we'd committed to reach people for Jesus.

And we saw so, so many people come to Jesus through it.

For ten years, I lived this kind of life out as best as I knew how.

It was a blessing. I didn't deserve it.

Now I live in Minnesota.

I'm a pastor overseeing an incredible student ministry...

I drive a Ford Escape.

I do other things, too. I'm finishing a book I've been writing for almost four years with my son Daniel. This is in addition to other writing I somehow get to do, too. And I travel when I can, trying to mentor others around the country in what I've learned.

And I keep my office in a great church. It's allowed me to continually be around an amazing team of people who give their best daily. Whenever I can, I pop home for lunch - always eating at least one meal with my family.

We've seen so, so many people come to Jesus here.

For one year, I've lived this out.

It is a blessing. I don't deserve it.

Today is the anniversary of my "start date."

And that's why I felt compelled to write all of this. Nothing good that I just mentioned was because of anything I did, but because of who God is.

So in reflection, after 365 days of making the most of Minnesota I got to thinking about how I spent my last Sunday with the church I was blessed to lead as it's pastor for a decade. They blessed my family so, so well with an amazing sendoff. I responded in kind by taking a moment to celebrate each person who showed up. It blew my mind at all the ministry we did together. They were so generous at blessing us with a Minnesota care package.

I'm also reminded of my last few moments I privately spent in the church building we'd created together. I was reminded of how we'd navigated three building projects to keep up with what God had been doing over the years. So much of it was a learning curve, as we did what we all could to help lead this, and maybe that's why those last few moments were so tender.

It was just the Lord and I... and so I walked through the building, starting at the stage. I saw the chords and lyrics to a worship song and it felt appropriate to sing it... so I did... slowly and meaningfully.

I paused where I'd preached for years just about every Sunday, thanking the Lord for the gift that opportunity was.

I gazed at the chairs that different people sat in over the years. Some were only with us a short time. Others came, left, came back again, and so on. And then there were those who were there all throughout the years. Every person in every chair was a miracle that I got to stare at as I spoke... knowing the story under their story and how amazing it was that they even showed up for church that day.

It again occurred to me that I was on holy ground. So I had to respond accordingly.

I then journeyed through different classrooms where my kids had learned their faith through phenomenal people who invested into them as teachers/helpers.

It all brought me back before the Cross.

I sat there for a while. I wept... I wasn't sure I was done being a senior pastor.

And yet I knew this was what God was calling me to do - to trust that my time in Ohio in that role was over... and that whatever was next in Minnesota was where He wanted me.

"I'll get the lights," I said to Him, leaving my key on the counter and closing the door behind me.

I honestly wrestled with this for a bit, especially when people seemed to regard my new role as a "lesser" role than being a senior pastor. "Do you think you might ever go back to that role?" I sometimes get asked.

I get it... sometimes that's just how people think of things. I wrestled with that question, too. And then I didn't worry about it anymore. Whatever I'm doing and wherever I am is up to God - He's put a passion in me for the future of His Church, and I'll live that out in whatever role He asks of me.

I'm not position hungry, nor am I position-shy. It's about being Jesus-centered and outward-focused.

Just a couple weeks ago someone randomly texted me about a senior pastor job they thought I was perfect for. It was perhaps an attractive offer, but at the same time a no-brainer that I didn't even have to spend a second on.

"Thanks, but I'm not looking. I'm right where I need to be."

Yeah, that's Minnesota. I know the stereotypes like so many of you who warned me, "You know, it's cold there." Yes, it can be... and it can also be quite sunny and breathtaking.

It's been an intriguing year. I ended up teaching a class at a Christian college. I ate a Juicy Lucy. I went boating... more than once. I enjoyed the beauty of the state with my beautiful wife. I built storage - as if I actually knew what I was doing. I figured out how to take care of a pool - because I had no clue what I was doing. I made some great new friends. I did road trips. I realized Minnesota has all my favorite foods, including Portillo's. I grew to respect the pastoral and administrative staff of our church.

I grew in my love for my family. I watched them all grow into a new season of life. I became a part of our church's teaching team. I led people to Jesus. I got pranked in the office and pranked back.

I have no clue what the next year holds, but I know Who holds it.

And I trust that being fully faithful and trusting in God's grace is the key to figuring out anything I need to figure out.

Tonight I'll invest into students, leaders and others they're connected to. It's an honor I pray I make the most of.

One year later...

I'm finding that the best "position" to be in is on the heels of Jesus, wherever He steps.
"Come, follow me,” Jesus said... 

at once they left their nets and followed Him. (Mark 1:17-18)

Mar 29, 2018

Holy Week thought: Thursday

A group of teenagers hanging out with Jesus... it wasn't the first time, and apparently it won't be the last time.

Our church hosted an amazing Easter experience for our students during which I happened to catch these photos of two of our guy groups in a particular rotation. As they took part in watching a movie clip of Jesus with His disciples during the Last Supper, I watched as these young man all tried to dial into something they couldn't fully grasp... something none of us can fully grasp. Yet they tried anyway. The same was true for other groups of guys and girls throughout the night at different stations. 

It occurred to me that they took part in something that happened 20 centuries ago... because 20 centuries ago a group of teenagers following Jesus did their best to dial into something they couldn't fully grasp.


Perhaps some days you don't feel like you fully understand all that you are learning about God or can't make sense out of everything the Bible teaches. I'm not so sure that it comes down to whether or not you or I can master it all, but if we will lean into the Master... for in doing so we can be contagious students. The same is true if you are a parent or leader and don't feel like you know what you're doing some days. The real challenge, if it is a challenge at all, is to pull up to the table with Jesus everyday, enjoy His company and follow His lead to take part in whatever He is leading you to do. As both history and my photo demonstrates, if we do this next generation will have an example to show them what to do with the "food" before them.

A group of teenagers hanging out with Jesus... it wasn't the first time, and apparently it won't be the last time.
"When it was evening, Jesus sat down at the table with the Twelve." (Matthew 26:20)