Archive for October, 2008


Rockin’ redemption

I first became aware of Vince a little over a year ago while I was the campus pastor at Resurrection West. The sermon we show on video on Sunday morning at West is the recording of the Saturday night sermon, burned to a DVD, edited for length and clarity, and hand-carried to the folks at Prairie Trail Junior High where we worshipped. At one point I began noticing something odd in the background of the sound portion of the sermon video. It sounded like there was someone yelling out in the background every now and then. It was slight at first, but then it was really noticeable when there was a pause or silent place in the proceedings. I asked Molly, my associate pastor, about it and she told me, “Yes, there is a guy with Turrette’s Syndrome who usually comes to the Saturday night service. He tries to sit as far back in the balcony as he can, but the microphones still pick him up.”

I have to admit, at first I found him a little bit annoying. Someone told me he was yelling obscenities, but I could never really decipher what words were being said. It just seemed to pop up at the most inopportune times and really deflated the mood and seriousness of the moment. On one occasion I went to worship at the central campus on a Saturday night and sat in the balcony myself, forgetting all about “Turrette’s guy,” as I called him. The first time he yelped out, I almost jumped out of my seat! It startled me. And it kept happening right throughout the service. And although I am somewhat ashamed to admit it, I left there thinking, “next time, I’ll come to a different service.”

Eventually it dawned on me that I am a Christian and a pastor to boot and I began to really have an appreciation of the dedication of “Turrette’s guy.” I mean, here he is, yelping out in the middle of church, knowing that everyone in the place is muttering about him under their breath, and yet he keeps coming back week after week. I thought, “This man really wants to WORSHIP! Praise God for that kind of dedication!”

I eventually got to know “Turrette’s guy.” I found out that his name is Vince. He joined the church a couple of months ago, and we had a chance to sit down and visit about some things going on in his life. I found out that Vince is a profoundly dedicated follower of Jesus Christ. He wants to do everything in his power to live as a disciple. AND he has this “thorn in the flesh” known as Turrette’s Syndrome. As we talked, I found myself wishing that I had a portion of the zeal for my faith that I perceived in Vince.

But then, just this past Saturday night, my world got rocked again by God’s inexhaustible ability to redeem. I went to the Saturday night worship service because I was assigned to serve communion in the chapel afterwards. I sat in the balcony in my usual spot, but noticed Vince was not there. No big deal, I thought. Everybody takes a night off now and then. But then as the sermon concluded and the ushers began to distribute the offering plates, I got the shock of my life! Lance – our contemporary music director – got up and said, “We have a special treat for you tonight…” Lance explained that the band was going to play a song by Collective Soul called “Shine,” in keeping with the sermon theme of Illuminate, featuring a guest vocalist. And there right beside Lance on stage, tossing back his long, rock star hair with a microphone in his hand was VINCE!

And brother (and sister) let me tell you this: Vince ROCKED THE HOUSE! He was AWESOME! He hit every note square and sang with a passion I have rarely seen before. It just gave me the chills to think about Vince’s journey – at least in my mind – from being the annoying noise in the background of my sermon DVD to being the star of the show. Of course, God and his power to redeem ANY situation is the real star of that drama, but you know what I mean.

And do you know what the really cool thing is? Vince is going to be the LEADER of the Celebrate Recovery worship band! How completely cool is THAT!?


Celebrate Recovery!

Today we are exactly 88 days away from launching a ministry at our church that could have some of the most profound and far-reaching effects of the many ministries we have undertaken over the years. We are preparing to launch “Celebrate Recovery,” a 12-step recovery program designed to help people overcome a wide variety of hurts, habits, and hang-ups through the healing power of faith in Jesus Christ. It is a program that was born 17 years ago at Saddleback Church in Orange County, California and has spread to thousands of churches around the world. Over the weekend, I even heard about someone who attended a Celebrate Recovery meeting in Mongolia! CR works mostly through local churches, but there are many groups meeting inside prisons also.

I am excited about what Celebrate Recovery will do in the setting of this particular congregation where I serve. I think it is fair to say that people outside this church look at us with a fairly jaundiced eye most of the time. This church is BIG (some 14,000 members), is attended by many of the political and social “elite” of our area (including politicians, professional athletes, entertainers, etc.), and is regularly featured in the media. Before I came here over three years ago I, like many others in our area, considered this church to be little more than a place to “see and be seen.” It seemed to be the place where the beautiful, problem-free people hang out and show off their latest toys to each other.

While it is true that our parking lot boasts an inordinately high percentage of Lexus’, BMWs, Acuras, Mercedes, and Infinitis, I no longer believe in the fairy-tale facade that is presented. In my time here I have seen and heard stories of deep pain and misery that have left me totally dumbfounded and very nearly (though not quite) rendered me speechless. Yes, some of the misery could be described as self-inflicted, the predictable result of living a life of excess. Some is the result of life “just happening” to people. But if there is one lesson I have learned in a new and lasting way it is that money and social status provide no more insulation from the storms of life than anything else we habitually seek.

And that is why I am so excited about what I see Celebrate Recovery being able to do here. As is the case with any 12-step program, the beginning point of Celebrate Recovery is stepping out of denial, dropping humbly to one’s knees, and saying, “God, this thing is bigger than me. I can’t tackle it by myself. I have tried to do it on my own and I have failed. The only way I am every going to deal with this successfully is by putting myself – wholly and completely – into your hands. Lord Jesus, I surrender my whole life to you today.” Being a church that loudly and proudly says, “We are a Celebrate Recovery church!” sends a powerful message to people. It says, “It is OK to come here and be imperfect! Broken, messed up people are absolutely welcome here! This is a hospital for sinners, not a hotel for saints!” I know we have often been thought of as a very welcoming place, but I truly believe that being a CR church “ups the ante” on any idea of hospitality in a really exciting new way.

I can’t wait to see how this ministry affects the people who will come to take advantage of it. But most of all, I am anxious to see how it will affect the rest of the church. Because after all, isn’t kneeling humbly before God and saying, “Not my will, but yours…” a good place to start anyway?

Stay tuned!


Revelation 13?

The other day I received a very disturbing email from a good friend of mine. He did not originate the thought, but was passing it along as something that, “… really makes you think about the pending Presidential elections.” The first question was, “According to the book of Revelation, how long is the Beast given authority?” The answer: 42 months. About the length, according to this email, of a presidential term. And then there is this startling kicker, supposedly describing the anti-Christ: “The anti-Christ will be a man, in his 40’s, of MUSLIM descent, who will deceive the nations with persuasive language, and have a MASSIVE Christ-like appeal….the prophecy says that people will flock to him and he will promise false hope and world peace, and when he is in power, will destroy everything..

Do we recognize this description?

Take a moment, if you can, and pick up Revelation 13 and read the whole chapter. See anything that even remotely resembles this description? What you will find is the careful codespeak of John of Patmos as he describes Emperor Nero and the threat posed by the Roman empire to the Christ-followers of his day and his encouragement to them to stand firm in the promises they have first believed in. And that is about it.

I guess what troubled me most about this email was how absolutely incongruous this email was with my image of my friend. He is a very devout man, a great father, very successful professionally. Sure he occasionally voices spiritual and political opinions that are considerably to the right of mine, but I have never once ever heard him propound something as completely grotesque as this stuff. It made me sad. It made me mad. It inspired me to write back a very strongly worded rebuttal to his note. But it also caused me to wonder if thoughts like this are perhaps simmering away in the dark places of other people’s hearts. Please understand… this post is not intended to voice a political opinion about the virtue of one candidate over another. I would feel exactly the same way if someone mis-quoted Revelation to indicate that John McCain was perhaps a thinly disguised anti-Christ.

But it frankly gives me the chills to imagine that people might be carrying around and spreading thoughts like this, all under the guise of being “righteous defenders of the faith.” And if there IS this slimy undercurrent flowing just beneath the surface of polite discourse, how might it manifest itself in the days and weeks to come?

Unfortunately it is when I see and hear things like this that I have a bit more empathy with the views of people like Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchins.


Being “Grandpa”

Today as I write (which, I am embarassed to say, is the first time in a LONG time!), I am in Houston, TX visiting my son and his family. It has been almost a year since I have been here to visit them in their native habitat and it has been an absolute tonic for me. Well, with the possible exception of the trip the boys and I made to Austin last night to witness one of the worst University of Missouri football games I have seen in my life. Yeeesh!

But we are not here to dwell on the bad, but rather to celebrate the good! So no more discussion of how a team that hopes to compete at the highest levels of Division I college football even fails to SHOW UP in one of their most important games of the year! And so as Forrest Gump might say, “That’s all I have to say about that.”

It is just great to be able to see how Ethan, and Jack, and Molly have all grown and developed in the past year. At 5, 3, and newly 1 respectively they are bubbling cauldrons of developmental amazement. In the middle of lunch at a local Mexican restaurant yesterday, my son Adam – seated right next to Jack – suddenly looked over and saw a huge wad of chewing gum in his hair. Mind you, Jack had not been chewing gum when we came into the place, so the question naturally came up, “Jack… where did you get that gum?” And of course, Jack’s answer was, “Under the table!”

Fortunately the waiter was able to go find a pair of scissors and so Adam cut the gum out of Jack’s hair while we paid the bill.

I guess one of the things that I most enjoy about being here and hanging out with the “fam” is that I get to be known by titles as well as by my name. Of course, Kelli, my daughter-in-law calls me by my name, but I get to be “dad” to my son(s), and “grandpa” to the grandkids. I guess the thing I like so much about that is that every time one of my titles is used, it speaks to me of connection. And CONNECTION is the key theme in my theological framework.  It speaks of God’s connection between humanity personified in Jesus. It speaks of our call as people to forge deep and caring connections with other people, just as God first connected with us. It speaks of our on-going spiritual quest to connect heaven and earth, life and death, the spiritual and the material through our disciplined pursuit of growth in Christ. “Dad” means, “you are the male parent I am connected to by birth.” “Grandpa” means, “I am the offspring of your offspring and so am connected to you in a direct line of succession.”

I love being “Grandpa.” I love being connected and being reminded of the different ways I am connected to each person on earth. Praise the Lord!

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