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Monday, September 28, 2009

Church Shopping: We May Have A Winner!

This weekend we got around to visiting The Bridge church in Bixby. It's been on our list ever since the beginning of our search; in fact, in a sense it was on our list even before we decided that we needed to change churches! The pastor was once our worship leader elsewhere, and he just returned to the Tulsa area I think less than a year ago after associate-pastoring a church in another state for something like five or six years or so. They have a monthly worship-only service that we've been invited to several times but were unable to attend for one reason or another, and several weeks ago we actually came out for one of their periodic potluck dinners. We've really been looking forward to this visit, partly because this is a small congregation (I think about 200 or so attending on Sundays) which is a real contrast with the other churches we've been test-driving (mostly in the couple-of-thousand attendees range, I'd say). Plus we have a LOT of friends who go to The Bridge already. So we were excited about coming to a real live service... in fact, I posted on Facebook a few days before, "warning" some of our friends who go there that we would be lurking on Sunday!

Early Sunday morning... about 4am... my 9-year-old boy got scared. You know how kids get scared for no reason? I know it happened to me when I was a kid, and I think it happens to us grownups sometimes too. Well, he just freaked out. A few nights before, he had gotten spooked in the middle of the night when he saw a threatening form in his room; the form turned out to be a t-shirt! He laughed it off pretty quickly that time, but not this time. I don't even know what exactly had set him off, but it was a good hour and a half before he calmed down enough to leave us alone. So we're talking 5:30am, and my wife had set an alarm for 6am to make sure she had plenty of time to get herself and the baby ready and still take the 30-minute drive to where the church is. We passed back out, and didn't wake up again until about 8. Services we've been visiting at Guts start at 11 and they're close (maybe a 5-minute drive); services at The Bridge are at 10, so that means we have to get up about an hour and a half earlier for The Bridge in order to get the same amount of getting-ready time before we have to leave. I woke Cathy up and told her that it was 8:00 so she had time to get ready and we could go to Guts or somewhere else; she surprised me by being pretty adamant that she wanted to go to The Bridge, even though it would be hard to get ready in time! So we went into four-alarm get-ready-for-church mode, and I was actually pretty surprised that we managed to get everyone fed and dressed and out the door almost exactly on time... we arrived at church nor more than five or six minutes before service time. Good thing their child check-in process is fairly simple!

We parked next to a car which turned out to contain a friend of ours from way back, and we chatted briefly on the way in. There were a LOT of familiar faces, most of them people we had gone to church with when Pastor Orlando was our worship leader, so we felt pretty comfortable and extremely welcomed. At The Bridge, the children are actually expected to be in the music part of the worship service right along with the adults, so we had them with us for that part (the baby did well until her big brother started playing peekaboo with her... we're going to have to keep the two of them separated during that part of the service from here on out). After worship the children go into separate classrooms for more age-appropiate Bible lessons, so we took them on back and were in place for the offering and the message.

The message was awesome. In fact, it was particularly relevant for a family looking for a new church home: it was about changing yourself to fit into the will of God for your life. We spent a lot of time listening to Pastor Orlando teaching the Word back when he was Music Director Orlando, and we loved his teaching style even then. In fact, I would encourage you to visit this page on the church's Web site and give him a listen. He has a very unique delivery, and what he's saying is so relevant and immediate. It's really neat stuff.

After the service we asked our son how the lesson was in his class. Apparently instead of kind of telling the kids a Bible story while they sit quietly and listen, in his class things were quite free-form, with discussion and back-and-forth between children and teacher the whole time the teacher was sharing the Bible story. To me, that is SO COOL. I hope that's the way it always is for the children, because that's perfect for Mikey. Honestly, I think most children would pick a very participatory lesson to sitting and watching what was going on, even if what was going on involved them to some extent (a game girls vs. boys with everyone cheering for your own team and everyone wins something, for example), but for Mikey, being able to speak up and put in his two cents will be so good for him. Meanwhile, the baby was having a good time playing and babbling at the nursery teacher... afterward she told me "She was talking the whole time, but I really couldn't understand her!" I told her, "Well, I saw you were watching some VeggieTales, you probably heard a 'Bop' the Tomato a couple of times," and she nodded like she was remembering a few Bops. :)

The Bridge is a very music-rich church. We knew most of the musicians on stage, plus a number of musicians in the congregation, and most churches would wet themselves to have the quality of musicians on their stage as The Bridge had sitting in the congregation (those people do play during the services, but there are so many of them that they rotate). What else would you expect from a church where the pastor was a long-time worship leader in the town next door? And Pastor Orlando and most of the other musicians there are friends of ours and are aware of our musical talents; I doubt we'll have any trouble with this church not making us feel supported in whatever musical conquests we might embark upon. We really want to spend a little bit of time with Pastor Orlando and find out what the whole story is on his commitment to the town of Bixby; it sounds like the choice to locate there was anything but random. It sounds like Bixby was carefully selected as the spot for that church because God had laid the area on Pastor Orlando's heart, and if so, then hands-and-feet, give-someone-a-jacket-when-they're-cold kind of ministry is a logical extension of that. We want to share our desire to be involved with a church committed to that kind of stuff and see how that fits with his vision, but I expect him to be really excited about it.

Before we were even through the door of the church afterward, Cathy was making it clear to me that she thought that The Bridge is "it." The place for us. I was a little bit conflicted because we have SO many friends there... that may sound ridiculous, but if it feels like "home" I want it to feel like that because it's God's "home" for us, not just because we have a couple of buddies there. But I can't deny that it immediately felt like home, and I also can't deny that the idea of trying out the other churches on our list suddenly doesn't interest me any more. So The Bridge is going to be seeing a lot more of us! We think it may be home for good. We haven't 100% ruled out the idea that we're confused and God will straighten us out, but it sure feels good to us right now. With the amount of prayer and thought and seeking God that we've put into this, if we're mixed up, I think He'll make it clear to us and quick.

We're excited about this church! Next week they're moving into a new facility... with that comes lots of exciting stuff. We can't wait!

Friday, September 25, 2009

Ninety Feet

Kennedy Building Lobby
Every day I walk, several times, past a ninety-foot drop which would end in my death.

The picture at right is the view over the rail into the open-air atrium in the office building where I work. We're on the ninth floor, and there is nothing but a short wall and a railing to separate anyone walking from their office to the restroom from falling over. So probably five or six times on an average day, I am two feet from doom. Meeting Jesus in person. Very scary!

Is it scary? Well, it was when I first started working here. I would go out into the atrium area and look down (feeling a little queasy), and then look up to the one upper floor and skylight and see the clouds (feeling a little inspired). I thought about how beautiful the atrium is, and how terrible it would be to experience nine stories' worth of open air on the way down (actually, the air wouldn't be the bad part... the floor would be the bad part!) It would always make me just a little bit nervous. You know why? Because I was conscious of the danger that is present in that situation. If someone wanted to do me in, they could do it easily (hopefully nobody does!) and if I lost equilibrium for some reason, I could tumble over that rail with no help whatsoever.

I don't worry about that any more. Why? Because the danger is less? No, of course not... it's because I just don't think about it any more. I've become used to the danger that is present there. It's not that I've lost my knowledge of the danger (or else I wouldn't be writing this) or my fear of falling to my death... it just doesn't occur to me now.

Let's think about something else. When was the last time you thought about Hell? The Bible describes flames burning people forever, worms eating them forever... it's pretty gruesome. If you are a believer in Jesus, that's not going to happen to you. We heard a pastor this week say that Christians are "disqualified" from going to Hell. You can't get in! You're not eligible to burn forever! :) Is Hell any less real or dangerous? No, of course not. It's VERY dangerous. But your fear of Hell is gone, and you probably don't think about it any more.

What if I was in the atrium and saw someone stumbling toward the rail? Would I remember the danger? Of COURSE I would! I would run to the person and try to steady them and save them from getting hurt or killed. Even though I don't think about the danger much, I'm aware that it's there. Let me ask you a question: when was the last time you thought about whether a person you met was in danger of going to Hell?

Quick break... check out this video from atheist Penn Jillette (from magic duo Penn & Teller)

Let's think of something else. Do you realize that every day, without the privilege of identifying with the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross, you and I are lost? Every day we walk through our lives in the very shadow of Jesus' work on the Cross. So daily, we are two feet from Jesus' Salvation on one side, and two feet from the threat of Hell (which is no longer a danger to us as believers) on the other. We should be so thankful for the gift on the one hand, and so alarmed by the danger on the other hand to people around us, that we should be willing to do whatever it takes to live out our faith, in public, and with no reservations. If someone was tipping over the rail, I would run, I would yell, and I would jump in the way if I thought it would help. The threat of eternity without God is just as imminent, and is much more dangerous, than a mere fall of nine stories. If you were extremely lucky, you might actually somehow survive a 90-foot drop... but the drop into Hell is a lot longer than 90 feet, and nobody ever comes back.

Don't be afraid to hear the Holy Spirit today. Don't be afraid to share your faith. If you are a willing vessel, God will use you... you may be the reason someone meets Jesus.

One day an old man was walking along the beach. It was low tide, and the sand was littered with thousands of stranded starfish that the water had carried in and then left behind. The man began walking very carefully so as not to step on any of the beautiful creatures. Since the animals still seemed to be alive, he considered picking some of them up and putting them back in the water, where they could resume their lives.

The man knew the starfish would die if left on the beach's dry sand but he reasoned that he could not possibly help them all, so he chose to do nothing and continued walking.

Soon afterward, the man came upon a small child on the beach who was frantically throwing one starfish after another back into the sea. The old man stopped and asked the child, "What are you doing?"

"I'm saving the starfish," the child replied.

"Why waste your time?... There are so many you can't save them all so what does is matter?" argued the man.

Without hesitation, the child picked up another starfish and tossed the starfish back into the water... "It matters to this one," the child explained.
-"A Single Starfish" inspired "The Star Thrower" By Loren Eiseley... this version borrowed from

[UPDATE: a very interesting perspective on Hell by Pastor John Piper can be found here.]

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Church Shopping: What We're Looking For

Over the past few weeks as we've been searching for a new home, I keep trying to weigh what we're looking for. I keep thinking about some of the things we're glad to be away from that were at the old church (face it, every church has its warts, and if you left your church, you'd be glad to be away from the warts too!) and things we'd like to see in a new church. We want a church that is reaching out to the community, like Jesus reached out to people... He fed them, He healed them, and He preached the Gospel of His Kingdom to them. He didn't just preach; he met their needs as well. We want a church that reaches out to the world with a priority placed on missions work. We want to physically be part of both of those things if possible. We want a church with praise and worship that we enjoy hearing, that we participate in, and that the whole congregation gets involved in. I personally would like to see people moving around a little bit... not just swaying back and forth and singing, but really physically participating. OK, I'll say it... I dig jumping. :) We want to hear messages that are deeply steeped in the Word of God, and are also very relevant to our lives... that only comes from a pastor who is listening to the Holy Spirit.

We want good programs for our children where they hear the Word and learn about it. We want it to be fun so they will love to come to church, and we want them to learn to worship God in music, giving, and hearing the Word. We want our children to have opportunities to participate in outreach to the community, and when they are old enough, even to have the opportunity to go on short-term missions trips if they want to. We want them to be safe from any kind of abuse by anyone in the church... it's a sad thing to have to think like that, but unless volunteers and staff are properly screened and supervised, the children are vulnerable. We want leaders who are thrilled to see our kids when we arrive, not just because they're our kids, but because they love kids and want to see them learn more about God. But we still want leaders who care enough to learn our kids' names.

We want people to know our names, too. We want to have the opportunity to get to know people, talk to them about the Word, pray with them, but also to just become friends and become part of their lives. We don't want to be faces in the crowd. There was a time in my life when that was exactly what I wanted to be, but I've come to understand that that's not what church is all about. It isn't a cool show you go to once a week; it's a family. If you don't recognize people and they don't recognize you, then it's not family. We went to a church for a year and never saw the same face twice except in the children's department where the same teachers would teach the same class ages on rotation. I never had any idea who I was sitting next to in the service. Too big. Too much. Not human enough. We're all brothers and sisters in the family of God, of course, but I think a local church is about relationships. We need that.

But we'd like people to know our names for another reason, too. Cathy and I are vocalists and songwriters, performers with a skill and people who understand a few things about worshiping God in song. We're not looking to find a church where we can become celebrities, but we do want a place where there is a place for our gifts to be utilized and treasured. We value the gifts God has placed inside of us far too much to squander them, and for far too many years we've flown just under the radar most of the time. It's time for us to be somewhere that we feel we have support in the ministry that God is calling us to. We don't even know exactly what form that might take, but our church family should be supportive.

I'm not saying that these things weren't present at our old church... some of them were and some of them were not so much. But those are some of the things we're keeping our eyes open for. The most frustrating thing in our search is that those things are what we think we want, but what we really want is the direction of the Holy Spirit. And that doesn't come from a checklist. We can't interview someone with our "demands" in hand and see if they fit the bill... because we believe that God wants us to be a part of some church somewhere and His idea of what's right for us may not fit our ideas. So all we can do is continue to pray, continue to have great patience (I wish every church in town would have a service every night, just for a month or so, so it wouldn't take so long to try out the ones we want to try out!), and continue to listen to the voice of God. Maybe He has us on this journey for a reason of His own.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Church Shopping: Guts Church II

We finally made it out to Guts Church for Sunday morning worship today! It was a little bit of a different experience from the Wednesday we visited, but not as much as you might expect.

THIS time, we got there in plenty of time to get everybody checked in and find some seats before the music started. We got a nice parking space, close to where Mikey's class was... it was a completely different arrival situation than the last time, with one exception: as they did the last time, people who greeted us were all VERY friendly. I think we were probably greeted with a smile five or six times before we even got inside the main building! I know those people are there deliberately and it wasn't some spontaneous display of enthusiasm on their part, but it made us feel very welcome, nonetheless.

This time I took notice of the long line of motorcycles all parked in a special area right next to the building. Must have been at least twenty of them. Did I mention yet that this is an edgy church? :)

When we went on a Wednesday night, they put Hannah into the 1-year-old classroom, even though she's 21 months old already. This time they put her into the 2-year-old classroom instead. The teacher this time seemed enthusiastic to see Hannah, which made us feel good about that. :) I noticed something this time that I didn't notice the last time, too... there are video monitors outside the nursery area showing each of the classrooms (1s, 2s & 3s, 4s & 5s). Pretty cool that there is that degree of transparency there, although to be honest, you can't tell much from looking at the monitors... they show the part of the classrooms that is closest to the entry, and most of the activities seem to take place in the other part. So you see a big empty room with tiny little people really far away... but it does give you a window into the classrooms, which is kind of nice.

We went on in and got seats a little closer than the last time, and a little closer to the center, too. The song service did appear to be a little longer, which was cool... it ran almost 15 minutes, which is still shorter than I would like (come on, guys, give us one more song!) but didn't seem truncated like the Wednesday service did. There was a really cool video about someone who came to The Nightmare years ago and became a Christian that night, and who eventually wound up bringing his brother to Guts (he got saved) and then their mom and dad (who apparently also got saved at Guts!) It was a pretty cool video!

The message today was about finding your call and being true to it. The cornerstone Scripture was from the first chapter of Jeremiah, where God calls Jeremiah, Jeremiah tries to make excuses about why he is unable to follow God's call (I'm just a youth!), and God tells him, listen, if you say what I tell you to say and do what I tell you to do, it doesn't matter who you are, because I will do the work. It was a terrific word, especially for people like us who are in a time of transition into a new phase of God's will for us. Cathy and I love to sing, but let's face it... mid- and late thirties is not the prime time of life to embark on a music career. But if we do what God tells us to do and say what He tells us to say, we can't help but succeed!

Cathy is pretty excited about Guts. The atmosphere is very relaxed (like us), and the messages have been right on. Mikey and Hannah both seem to enjoy their classes (in fact, Mikey ran into a friend from Kindergarten in Guts Kids today!), and Mikey is getting something out of the lesson in his area. Another serious positive point about Guts is that it's really close to our house... our old church was a 20-25 minute drive, and this church is about ten minutes max. I'm still not quite sure I'm ready to commit completely to Guts, though. I'm hoping to feel a breath of fresh air and everything falling into place when we find our new home church (I've heard lots of stories like that), but I don't know if that will happen or not. There are about five more churches on our list to visit; if it doesn't hit us like a thunderbolt anywhere and no other church impresses us like Guts does, Guts may well be the place we call home by the first of the year.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Church Shopping: Guts Church/Victory Christian Center

It's Thursday. Last night we didn't go to church... but I'm getting ahead of myself. Rewind a week to the previous Wednesday.

Despite the fact that we really kind of prefer to test-drive churches for the first time on Sunday mornings and then take in a Wednesday night afterward, last Wednesday we visited Guts Church for the first time in a long time. Cathy had been to Guts as a teenager when it was brand new; I've been once with her many years ago (it was in their previous building, and I don't even remember if Mikey was born yet). Guts is probably one of the edgiest churches you'll ever experience. The music is loud rock & roll, the pastor is in-your-face. The building has an almost unfinished look to it, not because it's unfinished (because it's clearly finished) but because that's the way it's intentionally set up. They even run a controversial "haunted house" every October called "The Nightmare" as one of their biggest outreaches of the year. It's certainly an exciting place to be, and the people we spoke to were very friendly!

It was a soggy, rainy night when we got there, and since we were right on the very edge of service time when we arrived, we wound up parking quite a distance from the sanctuary. We trudged that way through the gravel parking lot, and a young lady in a golf cart pulled up and offered us a lift! We took her up on it, and she drove us over to the children's building where Mikey would be. She told us she had been attending Guts for something like seven months, and she LOVES it. Mikey went into his service (where they have a cartoon "lounge" which was showing some Tom & Jerry cartoons, a rock wall, and several other fun diversions for the kids for before & after service time), and then we crossed the street into the main building.

The baby area is in the same building as the sanctuary. It's a castle! I mean, really. It's decorated like a castle. Stone walls, flags and tapestries, the whole nine yards. We got checked in (which wasn't too bad, with help from a friendly volunteer) and went over to drop off our baby girl. This was one of the strangest parts: in the 1-year-old classroom they actually had both halves of the split door closed. We had to knock on the door and then wait for them to come open the top so we could drop Hannah off! The nursery workers didn't particularly look enthusiastic about our arrival, either, even though there didn't appear to be very many babies there (maybe I couldn't see them in the other part of the room).

Anyway, we went into the service, which was already in progress. The praise & worship music was REALLY loud... if you're not a rock fan, you would POSITIVELY NOT like it. But we did. :) It was way too short, though... we walked in a minute or two late, and only actually heard two songs (we didn't know either of them, so we did more listening than singing). We hope that on Sunday the music will last a little longer. After that part, we got to hear a little bit about The Nightmare, which is in the preparation stages right now. Last year they hit a milestone with The Nightmare... a five-digit milestone. They had 10,488 decisions for Christ last year! How many churches that you know can even lie about those kinds of numbers and be taken seriously? What an impact on the community! We saw a video from last year, and then they welcomed us and the other visitors (they gave us three candy bars... each!) and took up the offering, and then Pastor got up to share his message.

What a message! The first part of it really hit home for us... he was talking about people having a possessive attitude toward their home church because it's "my house." That's what we're looking for... a church we can call our house! Our old church, for all of the many years we had been there, never quite felt like a place that we could call ours. We want someplace that feels like home to us.

Anyway, Pastor Scheer went on to compare several Scripture passages about building. Jesus indicated that each of us is building a "house" which is really our life. We can build on a foundation of the Word and have a strong house, or we can not and have a house that won't stand up to opposition. But we don't build alone... God builds alongside of us. One day our building will be tested by fire, and only works done for Christ will survive that. We are to bring God's light into all parts of our life (remember, the "house" is our life). And, in fact, all of our "houses" will one day be within God's house (in the ESV the word translated "rooms" is really more often translated "dwellings"; see note in the margin). It was a message that had me thinking for days afterward.

When the service was over with, Cathy wanted to see if we could get some more "information" about the church... any materials about programs going on there. We were directed to an information booth where two young guys spoke with us at some length, even asking our names and chatting about the church, before they finally told us that the lady who was supposed to be manning the booth was actually away for a few minutes, and they were just there scamming for some gum inside the desk! We thought it was pretty funny, but it was also pretty cool that they treated a couple of strangers who were visiting so warmly, even though it wasn't even their duty to talk with us. They could have just said, this isn't our booth, I'm sorry... but they didn't! And eventually the lady showed up, and she was very friendly and got us the pamphlet that they have about the church.

Hannah seemed to have had a good time... Mikey had a GREAT time and really enjoyed rocking out to their praise & worship service in the Guts Kids building! Overall the experience was very positive; they are a church with a vision and compassion for the local area (actually, including some outlying towns as well) and that resonates with us as a family. Guts doesn't appear to be as missions-centric as World Outreach Church, though.

Sunday morning we all got up and ready to go to Guts for the 11am service, and got partway there when Hannah exhaled the hugest booger I've seen in quite some time. With that kind of congestion, there was a good chance the nursery folks wouldn't want her in class, so we turned around and went home (we were kind of tired anyway). Sunday night, though, we went to Victory Christian Center for a special worship service led by a singer we can't help but love: Kari Jobe. Kari is the sweetest lady you'll ever meet; her music reflects that, and everyone who ever gets to hear her sing or speak seems to just fall in love with her. Anyway, we were definitely late getting to Victory. Victory is a HUGE megachurch... certainly one of the biggest churches in Tulsa, if not THE biggest... and we had some trouble figuring out where the children's area is. The check-in lady in the children's area apparently gave Cathy a little bit of trouble getting checked in; there was something about not enough volunteers in the nursery rooms. To me, that's something that a visitor doesn't need to be privy to. First of all, it's sad for a church that large to lack for volunteers anyway, but that kind of wrangling belongs behind the scenes. It's not the visitor's job to supply nursery workers. But we finally got Hannah checked in, got Mikey up to his children's service (turns out he really wanted to see Kari, although he did enjoy the service he was in!), and got on into the main sanctuary.

I'll suffice it to say that the sanctuary is HUGE. It has been used as a venue for a number of concerts and other events. It's big and it's beautiful, and if we were members there, there is no way we would ever meet even one tenth of the people in the room. Several friends of ours were there and we didn't see any of them. My own mother was at the service, and we never knew it until she called my wife's cell phone when we were on the way home! That's too many people. We want a family, not a county. I think we can consider ourselves friendly toward Victory, but it's not our "house".

So that brings us up to yesterday. It was payday, and we were running low on supplies at home, so Cathy opted for us to go to the grocery store instead of a church service. Which says to me that we probably haven't found "home" yet... if we had, then we would be so excited to be there that we wouldn't want to miss! We haven't hit that level yet.

I also want to point out again something that I find disconcerting: at neither of these churches did the workers in the baby's class seem happy to see us! What does it mean when the nursery volunteers look like they consider your baby an inconvenience? Hannah received the warmest welcome so far at World Outreach Church... the teachers there seemed almost overjoyed that another baby had arrived. THAT'S the kind of nursery workers you need! The ladies at Evangelistic Temple were quite friendly as well. But we almost felt like we had to assert ourselves at both Guts and Victory to get our treasure, our precious little girl, checked into her class. Cathy actually emailed Victory that evening after we got home to tell them about what happened to us when we were trying to check in. It was pretty inexcusable.

Cathy had a dream shortly before we left our old church. A friend of ours who is passionate about hearing from God and who knows a thing or two about dream interpretation, not knowing at all that we were thinking about leaving the church, told us that she thought the dream sounded like it meant that our ministry was trying to go somewhere but we weren't getting any help from the people around us, but that I, Michael, had the determination to find the help that we needed. The support that our ministry needs is a supportive local church to form our base of operations. And my wife and I are determined to find that exact place that God has in store for us.

Friday, September 11, 2009


If I knew back then what I know right now,
You know I'd be the king of the ladies!
And if I knew back then what I know right now,
There'd be no ifs, and buts and no maybes!

     - Extreme, "King of the Ladies" from Saudades de Rock

A few days ago my wife and I were watching the movie 17 Again. It's about a late-30s guy (about my age) named Mike O'Donnell who has made some mistakes in his life and wishes for a chance to do it all over again. George Bailey-style, he is granted his wish by an old crackpot guy; suddenly Mike is the age of a high-school senior. Of course, it's not 1989 any more; it's still the present day, and Mike winds up in school with his own daughter and son. He finds out some things about high school, about his daughter, and about his son that he probably would rather not have known; hilarity ensues, lessons are learned, and Mike gets to be is real age again, reconcile with his wife (who had been on the very edge of divorcing him), reconnect with his kids, and live happily ever after.

A few weeks before I had discovered the newest CD by an old favorite band named Extreme. The lyrics to one of their songs (quoted above) got me thinking: if I could take my 39 years of understanding of people, life, and particularly teenagers, back with me and get back into that high-school-age body, what would I do? Well, I certainly would do a better job with girls than I did then, because I've always been impossibly shy with females (my wife is the happiest exception to any rule that I've ever found in my life!) If I had the self-confidence that I have now instead of the self-doubt I had then, I imagine I would have had any number of girlfriends. It would be easy pickin's, I imagine... having the understanding of human beings that four decades brings, and unleashing it on unsuspecting teenage girls. Not a particularly fair match-up.

Mike in the movie did not to that, to my surprise. In fact, several girls pretty much threw themselves at him, making it clear that he didn't have to "respect them in the morning" or even, in one case, "...remember my name!" He didn't jump at the chance to use those very-available girls for pleasure. Instead, Mike spent all of his time on two projects: pursuing his adolescent dream of getting discovered by basketball scouts, and helping his kids get out of the messes that the kids had gotten themselves into (his son with getting picked on by peers, and his daughter with getting mixed up with a no-good boyfriend).

And that got me thinking... what would I really do if I could go back? Probably much of the same stuff I did at the time... I would probably still drag my Bible to school, go to school, go to youth group. Play trombone in the school band. But there would be a difference, because I would be different on the inside. On the outside I would be a zitty teenager, but on the inside I would be an adult. I would be inside the teenage world, like Mike O'Donnell, but I would not be a teenager. I would be an adult. I would be "other." If something happened that would have crushed me as a teenager, I would be able to laugh it off, knowing that as an adult, I probably wouldn't even remember it.

I would be "in" the teenage "world", but not "of" the teenage "world." Sound familiar?

So often I don't do something because of how it will affect me. I don't say something that I should say, because I'm afraid it will affect my social standing, or my career, or just my self-image. The Word makes it clear, though, that this world is very temporary (James 4:14) and that we should not consider it our home. One day I, and you too if you are a believer in Jesus, will "graduate" from the world in which we now live, and go on to the things God has in mind for us for eternity. I am no more a permanent resident of this world than a high-school senior is a permanent resident of his high school. Why should I care any more about the ins and outs of life pre-eternity than I would care about the social jockeying for position if I were 17 years old and back in high school?

Let's do what God has called on us to do, today, without reservation or timidity. Whatever age you are right now, and wherever you are socially, jobwise, schoolwise... you can't go back ten years from now and be in that exact same situation again. God has a job for you to do right now, right where you are. If you take yourself out of the picture, that job may not get done. God has a call for your life! Are you going to follow Him today?

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Church Shopping: World Outreach Church

This morning was our first Sunday morning test-driving World Outreach Church, pastored by Mark & Janet Brazee. We've actually been there a couple of times before; Cathy was in a service back in the 90s when the church was first starting up, and then she and I attended a service a few years ago with my pastor from the church where I grew up (he is a friend of Pastor Brazee), and then we all visited again together the Wednesday before last. I didn't comment on our visit then because frankly, we don't want to judge any church by its Wednesday service alone. Every church puts its best foot forward on Sunday morning, so although we do want to visit churches on Wednesday, we want to make sure we get a Sunday in there, too.

But first about that Wednesday, a week and a half ago. We showed up unannounced (in fact, I think this was even before we had told friends at our old church that we had decided to leave) and immediately found our dear friends Mardy & Jamie. I've known Mardy since we were in choir together in college; Cathy and I got back aquainted with him and met his wife many years later at the church we just left. Mikey got to be friends with their son, who is a year younger than Mikey, and Cathy even babysat for them at one point. Anyway, they've been at WOC for some time now, and we spotted them right off. Jamie was characteristically enthusiastic to see us; for one thing she's an enthusiastic lady! ...and for another thing she and Cathy have been really good friends. So we sat with them through that service.

I'm getting a little bit ahead of myself, though. First we had to check in the kids in their classes! Hannah went to the nursery area, where she seemed really ready to go play with the other children. Mikey went upstairs to their beautiful brand new facility for the older kids. He was hooked when he saw the Wiis in there. :)

Anyway, we were with Mardy and Jamie in the adult service, and we had a wonderful time, and enjoyed it very much. When we asked Mikey later what he liked about his experience, he said that "Everyone was so friendly!" so he had a great time, and Hannah apparently had a good time playing and she left happy (actually, she left with one of their board books... I had to go bring it back!) About a week later, I got a follow-up phone call, which was very appreciated (I talked about that here). Then this morning we loaded up again for our first full-fledged Sunday morning service!

The church was pretty packed for the Sunday morning service. At the same time as they were expanding their children's areas, they were expanding the sanctuary as well, and they clearly needed it! It was Missions Sunday, and when I heard that, I knew Cathy was going to really love it; foreign missions are something that has been strong on her heart ever since her (Southern Baptist) childhood. I have a love for missions too, but not nearly to the degree as she does. And as is obvious from their name, World Outreach Church is definitely a missions-focused church! We got to hear some exciting testimony from a missionary that the church supports, and then Pastor Brazee spoke on missions for a while. He talked about the four men who carried their friend to Jesus to be healed, and then he brought out a table, had a man lie on it (to represent "Mongolia") and then called up a young lady who is about to go on the mission field to Mongolia. He told us that she couldn't carry "Mongolia" to Jesus (he called up another man to be "Jesus") without help; she can only carry one corner of the table by herself. But one by one, he called up people to be her team back home; the people back home who would be praying for her; and the people back home who would give so that she would have funds to stay out on the field (Pastor Brazee was visibly overcome, and briefly unable to speak, when he talked about missionaries who have to leave their mission field because of lack of funds). Then the four people each lifted one corner of the table to carry "Mongolia" to "Jesus", and I never thought I would be so moved to see four people carry a guy on a table across a stage.

Meanwhile, Mikey was also having Missions Sunday in his class. Mikey told us a story afterward about a crusade in Argentina where 4,206 people received Jesus at once! There were so many hands, Mikey told us, that from the front you couldn't even see the hands in the back. Once again everyone was friendly to Mikey, and he has nothing at all bad to say about the experience.

I've got nothing bad at all to say about either visit either; the building is beautiful, the people are friendly, and actually we've got several friends that already go there so it's not even entirely like a different church. We love their emphases on the children and on outreach, both foreign missions like they talked about today, and local outreach, which we understand happens quite frequently. If we should decide that this is our new church, the one thing that I'll need to get used to is the music. I'm saying that knowing that our friends Mardy and Jamie are heavily involved in the music, and they may well read this, so I hope they won't be offended, because I'm just being real here. The music is well-performed and clearly heartfelt (in fact, this morning the lady who plays percussion... shakers, tambourines, that kind of thing... was nearly dancing right there in place, she was so into it), but it's not so much my "flavor". I'll have to get used to the style (which is kind of part 80s charismatic, part black Gospel... actually very similar to the music in the church I grew up in) in order to be able to lose myself in worship there. That is by no means a deal-breaker; I learned long ago that the music and the worship that occur are completely separate things, and you can worship whether the music is your "thing" or not (heck, you don't even need music at all in order to worship God!) so if this is where God is calling us, I'll get used to it and have no trouble during worship. Cathy has no problem with it at all. Am I being petty? I hope not. Music is a big part of my life (I majored in music composition in college, for crying out loud!) so it looms large for me. It may turn out that it's just a hurdle I have to overcome. But if it is, it's a hurdle that I've put in my own way, not something that World Outreach Church has created. What they've created is clearly a vibrant, active, involved, caring, friendly church body. I think I could handle a couple of Charismatic two-step songs in exchange for the chance to be a part of something like that!

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Church Shopping: Follow-Ups

We didn't go to church last Wednesday... we already visited one church for the first time on a Wednesday (World Outreach Church) and we really want our first time at new churches to be a Sunday. Plus, Cathy and I were both really wiped out this week. So we stayed home. But then Thursday at about 2:30pm my phone rang, and it was someone from World Outreach calling to say hi, thanks for visiting with us, do you have any questions, that kind of stuff. It was a really cool conversation. Then not more than ten minutes later, I got an EMAIL from Evangelistic Temple church, welcoming us and thanking us for coming, the same sort of stuff. THEN: Thursday night we were at home when the doorbell rang. It was a lady from E.T. who had brought us a bag with a 2-liter Coca Cola, some Orville Redenbacher popcorn, and some literature about the church in it! She even prayed with us that we would find the right church for our family. It was awesome! WOC and ET churches, you're doin' it RITE!

We're really looking forward to making our first Sunday visit to WOC this Sunday morning coming up!

Friday, September 4, 2009

Romantic language between us and God, revisited

Forgive me now, 'cause I have been unfaithful
Don’t ask me why 'cause I don’t know
So many times I’ve tried, but was unable,
But this heart belongs to you alone

Forgive me, I’m ashamed; I’ve loved another
I can’t explain cause I don’t know
No one can take your place, and there is no other
Forever yours and yours alone
          -Skillet, "Forgiven" from Awake
How the faithful city
     has become a whore,
     she who was full of justice!
Righteousness lodged in her,
     but now murderers.
          -Isaiah 1:21, ESV

Several days ago I linked to a video where Matt Redman had some interesting points to make about "blokes" (guys) not necessarily being comfortable using "romantic" language in worship to Jesus... kind of a vaguely homophobic squeamishness to saying that you "love" another man. I think Matt has a valid point in that we as songwriters need to be sensitive to the kinds of things that the casual worshipper may not be comfortable saying as part of worship, but God has no problem with talking about us as though we were His wife.

- Isaiah chapter 61 was quoted by Jesus in Luke 4:18-21; He clearly proclaimed that He was the fulfillment of that Scripture passage. If you look back at verses 3 and 10 of Isaiah 61, there is clear wedding imagery between Messiah and His people.

- Ezekiel 16 is a description of the relationship between God and Israel which is beautiful and erotic, heartbreaking and tragic, and finally quite brutal. Israel is portrayed as a woman who was rescued from death when she was born by God, grew up and became a beautiful woman, was married to God, became very loose and began sleeping around with anyone she could find, ultimately earning the accusations "adulterous wife" and "brazen prostitute" from God Himself.

- In Jeremiah 3:1-14 God again bluntly accuses his "wife" (Israel) of sleeping around like a whore. I am NOT making this up, and I am not exaggerating at all... take a look for yourself!

- Many Theologians see the Song of Solomon as not only a story of a love between a man and woman, but as an allegory of the love between God and His people.

- The book of the Revelation speaks of Israel as a woman (for example, Revelation 12:1-6) and the people of God, dwelling at that time in the New Jerusalem, as God's "bride" (Revelation 21:2).

- In Ephesians 5:25-27 it is made clear that the relationship between a man and wife is intended to be a picture of the love between Christ and the Church.

Men who are uncomfortable with the idea that they are loved by God in a way that closely resembles the way that a man loves his wife... well, they had better get used to it. I've read in C.S. Lewis that "What is above and beyond all things [God] is so masculine that we are all feminine in relation to it." Should we as songwriters shy away from saying "I love you" to God, or saying God is "beautiful?" I don't think so, although "beautiful" has been used in contemporary praise and worship music so much that probably different words would inspire a clearer picture at this point. I think that we should be sensitive to the congregations we are asking to sing our songs, but approaching God with a feminine frame of reference to me is like approaching a knife as if it is sharp, or approaching a campfire as though it is hot. God thinks of us as though we were his fiancé. We are loved, dreamed about, protected, and the inspiration of jealousy when we are "unfaithful" (isn't it funny that we use that word about our relationship with God all the time, but it never occurs to us how serious a charge of unfaithfulness in a marriage truly is?) We need to remember that when we betray Christ by willful sin, it is as though we have slept with another man on the eve of our wedding. That's how serious it is to God.

Praise God that He forgives us in our unfaithfulness, and dreams of the day when we will be finally and forever faithful to Him!
Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
          -Jeremiah 31:31-33, ESV, also quoted in Hebrews 8:8-12
Now I’m in our secret place
Alone in your embrace
Where all my wrongs have been erased
You have forgiven
All the promises and lies
All the times I compromise
All the times you were denied
You have forgiven
          -Skillet, "Forgiven" from Awake

Tuesday, September 1, 2009


Recently I heard a message about anger. A brief tour of some high points: people who harbor anger hurt others (particularly those closest to them) and hurt themselves; angry people are more likely to fall into sin and to miss out on good things God wants them to have; with our words we can either inspire anger or defuse it, and we can choose by an act of will to put away our own anger. It was a terrific message (although it's the kind where you don't hear that many "hallelujahs" from the congregation!), and as I thought about it that afternoon something occurred to me. The message seemed to dwell mostly on the kinds of anger you can see, the aggressive kind where you yell at someone, throw an object, throw a punch. The kind of anger that seethes until it attacks. What occurred to me was that not everybody who is harboring anger blows up.

I personally tend to express (or is it NOT express?) my anger in a passive-aggressive way. When I am angry and not dealing with it properly, my impulse isn't usually to yell or throw things... I tend to do it by leaving something where I think it may bother someone, or not putting something away, or something really silly and trivial like that. Don't get me wrong, I've been known to explode, but usually I internalize and I guess kind of let it out in petty little spurts. I doubt that my cranky little "love notes" ever are even noticed more than about one time in fifty.

But anger is anger, whether it festers on the inside or whether it explodes all over the landscape. Just because it's not the extroverted kind of anger that inspires fear and breaks bones doesn't mean it's not anger. And whether anyone but you knows about it or not, it is still anger - the Bible sometimes calls internalized anger "bitterness" - bitterness hurts the bitter person just as surely as punching a hole in the wall. And invariably, that bitterness will eventually come to light, if not by turning into the explosive kind of externalized anger, certainly by eating you from the inside until it turns into an ulcer, a heart problem, a nervous breakdown. Anger that never sees the light of day is just as dangerous as anger that comes out in a temper tantrum.

The most humbling thing, though, is that bitterness and anger are both equally sin, and either will separate us from the blessings of God. That's not a place that I want to be.