Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Where do you live?

Does anyone struggle to really unplug and have a vacation besides me? I’m in Palm Springs this week with my wife, sons and daughter-in-law at a beautiful resort enjoying sunshine, pool time and good meals. I begin the mornings on my patio drinking coffee, reading and enjoying the view of the golf course and mountains (pictured).

Yet, my vacation is constantly invaded with thoughts about work and responsibilities I left behind at home and about tasks, meetings, people, etc. that I face when I return.

Meanwhile, I’m reading through William Young’s novel, The Shack. A first time author, Young wrote the book for his children in the attempt to help them understand God. The lead character, Mack, has an unusual encounter with God at “the shack” and out of that, a number of theological and personal issues on put forth that provoke reflection.

Today I read a section where Mack is engaged in a personal conversation with Jesus. Jesus asks Mack, “Do you think you were designed to live in the past, the present or the future?” After some hesitation, as if it were a trick question, Mack responds, “I think the most obvious answer is that we were made to live in the present.”

Jesus affirmed that Mack got it right but then queried, “But now tell me, where do you spend most of your time, in your mind, in your imagination?”

Pow. I was nailed, not that Jesus is interested in nailing me or anyone. I had to close the book and ponder that. It wasn’t a new revelation. I’ve struggled with this almost all of my adult life. But it was a timely reminder that one of my great challenges is to live in the present.

Where do you live?

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Finding the Power for Life

I’ve been leisurely reading Tony Dungy’s best seller “Quiet Strength” for several weeks. I already reflected on it once before (here). Today I finished it and the finish coincided with my drive from Riverside, California to Palm Springs.

I just read the chapters where Dungy described the devastating experience of losing his oldest son, Jamie, at just 18 years of age. Though Jamie was a Christ follower and Tony was confident that his son was with Jesus in heaven, the loss was breath taking. Tony’s testimony was that it was the power of God that sustained him through those first few days and in the months since.

On the other end of the emotional spectrum when Dungy and the Colts won the 2007 Super Bowl it was the remarkable moment of a lifetime-of-experiences all coming together at once. The influence of parents, siblings, coaches, teammates, etc. all began flashing in his mind. All the work, discipline, disappointments, defeats and victories along the way culminated in a moment on a platform when the championship trophy was being placed in his hands. Just as Dungy had needed God’s power in the loss of his son Tony recounted that he had needed God’s power in a time of victory.

As you may have noticed, some people “blow up” their lives after a loss while others do so after a victory. Dungy reminds us that we’re always in need of God’s power.

It’s one thing to hear from a Christ follower like Dungy that we need and can receive the power of God and it is another thing to know or understand how that happens. Spiritual experiences like worship, prayer, or Bible reading can be important tools but I feel like I hear 80% of the time that someone has used those tools and there is still a disconnect with God.

Back to my drive, as you enter Palm Springs from the West you are engulfed by hundreds of windmills. A lot of power is generated by the windmills and millions of people benefit from that power. You can’t see the wind that is driving the windmills but you can see the results. You see the blades turning. You can learn of the electricity that is generated and the homes and businesses that are powered.

Our lives are a lot like the windmills. We are dependent upon the presence of God blowing through our lives which then releases God’s power upon us and through us. Worship, prayer and Bible reading are just a few tools that basically position our “blades” so that we can catch the wind. Ultimately we do those spiritual practices because of faith. We believe that God is powerful and we believe that He does release His power upon us.

If the windmills don’t have the blades in position, even though the wind blows no power is received. God’s power is “blowing” around us all of the time. Do you believe? Do you raise those blades with various Christian practices?

Are you in need of God’s power today? It may just be that God has drawn you to the reading of this post so that you might turn to Him in this moment. I pray God’s empowerment upon you.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Don't Be Afraid to Reflect

Our world said good-bye last week to Tony Snow, the former press secretary for President George Bush and a former television and radio commentator. The journalist died at age 53.

Much has been written and said about Tony over the past few days. One person quoted a part of Tony’s commencement address to Catholic University of America in 2007--

“Why am I here? [That question] impels you to think like the child staring out
at the starry night: Who put the lights in the sky? Who put me here? Why?

Don’t shrink from pondering God’s role in the universe or Christ’s. You see, it’s trendy to reject religious reflection as a grave offense against decency. That’s not only cowardly, that’s false. Faith and reason are knitted together in the human soul. So don’t leave home without either one.”

Why should anyone pay attention to Snow’s thoughts? Because at the time Tony was battling for his life against colon and later liver cancer. Tony was not waxing theoretically. His grappling with life and death issues was real.

Yes, I know it is Monday morning and you have emails and voicemails and postal mail and a full week’s agenda screaming at you for attention. Let us not forsake reflecting on the most important matters.

Blessings on your day.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

How Much Do You Know?

Mark Batterson is the creative and visionary pastor of National Community Church in Washington DC. A few months ago he spoke at a conference called “The White Board Sessions” and made the observation that there is a vast difference between how God thinks and how we (humans) think.

Check out the video clip and I’ll share a reflection below-- from Churchy Media on Vimeo.

How much do you know? In this moment it is abundantly clear that I don’t know much.

Thanks Mark for reminding me of God’s greatness, moving me toward better humility, prompting me to seek God first and warning me not to lean on my understanding. How loving and gracious is God that He would pursue relationship with us and be inclined to bless us when we are undeserving.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

How Much Would It Take?

I recently learned (here) of the online shoe retailer Zappos and their strategy to build their company. They hire employees, put them through four weeks of training and immersion into the Zappos culture and then they make “The Offer”: The company says to its newest employees, “If you quit today we will pay you for the amount of time you’ve worked, plus we will offer you a $1,000 bonus.” Zappos actually bribes its employees to quit! They figure that if you take the offer then you weren’t the type of employee with the type of commitment that they need.

I immediately reflected on my own situation. What would it take for me to leave Meadowbrook Church where I serve as lead pastor? I thought about $1 million. Nope. I thought about $10 million. That’s a lot of money and I could do a lot of ministry and a lot of good in a lot of places, but the answer was no. When I leaped to the thought of $100 million it was also a quick no.

Sound crazy? The fact of the matter is that God is more important to me than all of the money in the world, AND, I believe that God wants me serving Him and others at Meadowbrook. I live and serve at His pleasure. So, I wouldn’t leave any place that God has planted my life for any amount of money.

What about you? Are you planted in the life (work, family, relationships, etc.) that God has called you to? If not, why not? AND, is there any amount of money that could entice you to leave the place of God’s calling? If so, then money is more important to you than God.

Something to ponder.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Join the "Dance"

Matt Harding is something of a computer geek who makes video games. He lives in the Seattle area but over the past couple of years has had the privilege of “dancing” around the world.

The short of the story is that he used to do a silly little dance around his workmates to get them to stop working and go to lunch. A few years ago Matt quit his job and decided to travel. He visited 30-something countries and in one of them his friend shooting video said, “Do your little dance.” After that Matt decided to make his dance a kind-of signature for everywhere that he traveled. When he returned home he edited his trip by way of all the places he did the dance and put it on his web site (pre-YouTube). It was downloaded like crazy. Later when he posted it on YouTube it went viral and had something like 5 million hits.

Stride Gum saw it and asked him to make another trip doing the dance along the way and they sponsored it.

Enjoy the video. Below I share my reflection.

Where the Hell is Matt? (2008) from Matthew Harding on Vimeo.

After seeing the video I was lifted in spirit and more lighthearted. I felt joy and a strange sense of connection with diverse people whom I had never met. Then it occurred to me that the “dance” and the others that joined Matt in the “dance” really was picturesque of what God is up to with humanity.

God is doing something of a “dance” in our midst, all of the time. He is the embodiment of joy, gladness and happiness. Yes He takes sin and human depravity seriously but that is primarily because sin robs us of joining Him in life’s dance. Joining God in doing life (“dancing”) bridges our diverse differences, stirs the childlike joy that is innately in us and lifts us from being mired in the mundane.

Can you hear the “music”? Do you “see” the outstretched hand of God inviting you to the dance? Will you join in with God’s “dancers” around the world?

Wednesday, July 02, 2008


This photo taken of an American soldier and an Iraqi boy (found here) captured my attention and my reflections today.

I’m grateful for the sacrifice and commitment of our military and respect them for the extremely difficult assignment that they bear. The picture captures the paradox of compassionate tenderness housed in a battle ready man.

But the primary reflection that seized me is the trust that the little boy has toward a mighty warrior. This is a picture of humanity with God. The Bible declares that God is “Almighty” and an awesome and terrible force against evil and unrighteousness. Yet, He can be trusted so that we may approach Him like a little child. He will lower Himself to listen to us and talk with us. He will allow us to find refuge upon Him from the scorching sands of this world.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

"I Kissed a Girl" by Katy Perry

Today Fox News featured commentary on a new pop hit titled “I Kissed a Girl”. The song talks about a girl seeing another girl and giving in to an urge to go over and kiss her, though she doesn’t even know her name. What’s more, the song goes on to say how much she liked the kiss and the taste of the other girl’s Chap Stick. The Fox commentators were alarmed at the message it would send to young girls.

I’m a parent and I serve a lot of parents as a pastor. For some time I’ve been concerned about the increasing confusion for teens and tweens concerning gender identity and sexual experimentation. Over the past couple of years there have been growing numbers of girls experimenting sexually with other girls. I share the concern of the Fox commentators.

But then the story went on to give some background to the vocalist and my attention was captivated because the artist is 23 year old Katy Perry, whose mother and father both serve as pastors in a local church. What’s more, Katy was forbidden to hear rock or pop music growing up in a strict Christian family. However, one night in a sleepover with some friends she heard Queen for the first time and testifies that it was like heaven opening up and saving her.

Growing up she was Katy Hudson who used her musical talent for ministry, recording a Christian CD in 2001. (You can read Christianity Today’s magazine review of that album here.) Pursuing a musical career with a new name she is touted by “Blender” magazine as the next big thing. Madonna recently said that she loves Katy Perry. Currently “I Kissed a Girl” is #2 on iTunes.

The music video to the song is quickly receiving thousands of hits on YouTube. Sensually writhing on a bed and surrounded by women in negligee Perry’s persona comes off as soft porn and it’s catchy beat has young girls all over the country mindlessly singing along. All of which raises the question, “What happened?”

Now if you found this post by Googling Katy and you are now ready to pounce on me for judging her, I’m not. As a father and as someone who has worked with youth for 30 years, I truly feel a love and compassion for Katy even though I haven’t met her. I feel a kinship with her parents. I don’t agree with or condone the choices she has made but I don’t judge and condemn her.

When I wonder what happened, I’m reflecting on what I know and what I’ve experienced as a long time follower of Christ. As a Christian (not a religious person--they are two vastly different experiences) my life is shaped and made more like Christ because I know Him and follow Him. Again, I’m not talking about being an uptight rules keeper who freaks out at rule breakers.

Sexuality is a gift that God gives us with which we communicate love and experience intimacy in trusted and committed relationships (like monogamous marriage). Therefore it is totally inconsistent with Christ to promote a message or encourage a sexual experience that is random, lustfully motivated, nameless and unfaithful to another with whom you are in a committed relationship. All of these characteristics are celebrated in “I Kissed a Girl”. Yet, Katy still contends that she is a follower of Christ (see the YouTube clip below). So, for me it raises the question, “What happened?”

For now I just feel burdened and impressed to pray for Katy and for her parents. Fame and success are poor substitutes for meaningful connection with God and loved ones. With all my heart I don’t want to see this beautiful and talented young lady go down a road that she will forever regret.