My loss

sadness 2I have called North Point my church family for over 21 years.  As much as I want to be “just one of the guys”, I understand that with responsibility, comes expectations and clarity. And, for the most part, I’m okay with that.

One of the things I’ve always struggled with, though, is the loss of friendship.

I recognize the line between my job as a minister and my life as simply part of our church family is completely blurred.  Some of that is because it is required of me…some because it’s just the way I am.  But no matter which way you cut it, I’m fully invested.

I’m not naive.  I know that through the years, there have been people who considered North Point their church family who left because of me.  Maybe they disagreed with something I said.  Maybe they felt I neglected them. Maybe they considered me a poor leader.   Maybe they didn’t like my hair style.  Maybe they just don’t like me very much.

It’s how some people have come to understand the church.  It’s how some people have come to understand relationships.  I don’t like it.  I wish it were different,  but ultimately, I’ve learned to be okay with all of that.  I have to be.

No, the part that is really difficult for me is when people decide to leave North Point for reasons other than me, and I lose our friendship in the process. (For the record, I draw a deep distinction between being a friend and having a friendship. One takes little time and little effort.  The other takes a huge dose of both).

Again, I understand that North Point isn’t for everybody.  Maybe they just don’t want to be part of a church family at all anymore.  Or maybe it could be that others are looking for different things in church families: programs for their children…a certain kind of Sunday morning show…the “right” kind of people…opportunities for serving…doctrinal purity…whatever.

And North Point certainly can’t be all things for all people.  We don’t want to be.

But it still cuts deeply that I have to lose friendships when people decide we aren’t what they are looking for.  Because once they leave North Point, nothing is ever the same.  I lose our time together.  I lose connection.  I lose sharing life. I lose partnership.  I simply lose touch.  And there will never be the time to make it up.

All against my will.  And I hate it.

And I’m always left to wonder if they feel the same way about the loss of me.

I’m kind of whiny tonight.  Blame it on the sternum saw…






Marriage Tuesday. Part 1

This is a personal message to young adults…both singles and couples.   It will come in two parts.   These two posts may be the most important thing I have ever written.  It weighs on my heart pretty heavy.  It’s not about judging…or inducing  guilt…but simply to get you to think (or even talk) about the patterns you are building in your young lives…

marriage 2When Wanda and I were just a young couple in our 20’s and early 30’s, we lived in the rapidly growing, economically robust culture of 1975-1990 Southern California.  It was massive… full of upwardly mobile twenty and thirty-somethings.  It was the center of pop culture shifts for the nation…and driven by the pursuit of expansion and social status.  It was our home.

As a young couple, we rejected status seeking and financial security, neither of which was consistent with our own upbringing.  Instead, we dove into friendships.  We fully invested in relationships and ministry.  Our marriage was shaped by seeing it (our marriage) as serving a greater good.

Marriage wasn’t simply for our own enjoyment, but the depth and character of our marriage was defined by sharing it with others.

Don’t misunderstand…we loved our time alone.  Date nights.  Weekends away.  Vacations with just the two of us…35 days of backpacking or camping alone one summer!  But being alone was not the majority of our time.

We had deep, meaningful relationships with dozens of people and healthy, regular friendships with dozens more.  People we served.  People who invested in us.  We were always involved with small groups of students in weekly discipleship groups…and other youth workers that we not only shared ministry, but life, with.

We were close enough with other couples to learn from their mistakes and receive their teaching and accountability.  At any point in time during these years, we were involved in open and transparent friendships with 25-30, or sometimes more,  other people (singles and couples) at the same time.  For their good…as well as for ours.

These were people who worked full-time jobs…owned homes…had children… had extended families…went to school…mowed their own lawns…managed households… and had personal goals and dreams.  But we all, somehow, made time for things that were ultimately more important.

We found our greatest joy and greatest challenges in these friendships.  They were demanding.  They were fun.  They were complicated.  They took time.  We loved doing things together.

We learned to view our time as not our own, but belonging to God…and we were simply stewards of it.  Just like our money or our possessions.  We helped each other when houses needed to be fixed or cars worked on.  We ate together all the time.

We played tons of sports with each other.  Volleyball in the park or on the sand at the beach happened all the time.  I played softball one night a week for nearly twenty straight years…and that always included going out for pizza afterward.  Weeknight or weekend leagues…it didn’t matter.

Being with friends fueled our lives…broadened our perspectives…taught us what was really important.  And there was always room for new people.

And it didn’t change once we had children.  It defined our family life and gave our boys the greatest life experiences they could have ever had…and helped shape their character and values.

From the moment our kids were born, they went with us.  We lived our life and fit them in.  I think we knew, instinctively, that there would come a time that their lives and schedules would take precedence over ours, so it was important…super important…that we create a lifestyle of total flexibility and people investment while they were babies and pre-schoolers, that would carry over into our family life once they started going to school.

We packed light…and traveled lighter.  We bathed them in ice chests in Mexico.  They got held by hundreds of kids when they were babies.  The whole youth group babysat them.  They learned to eat whatever everybody else was eating.  They seldom had a set bedtime.

People were constantly in our house.  Or we were going over to someone else’s house.  People got to know us and our boys.  We still have loads of people from those years who ask us about Chris and Corey.

Our boys were always with other people.  I am convinced that the primary reason both of them have always functioned well with adults, is because they lived their lives out around people who were older than they were.  It was in the midst of all these deep friendships that they learned the value of conversation.

This lifestyle was our choice.  I’m not saying it wasn’t complicated and demanding, but we are deeper and better people because of it.  Giving ourselves away to others for the good of the Kingdom became second nature for us.  It was not only what we did…but who we became.

But something has happened over the years.  It’s all different now.

Stay tuned for Part Two.  Pay careful attention.  It’s not pretty.

Pastors shouldn’t blog

blogging 1I don’t really believe that.  But I came close to adopting it as policy.

During my writing sabbatical, I began to struggle with the reality that most of what I was writing about…or wanted to write about…was stuff I was seeing in the lives of people I love and share life with.

This was really nothing new.  For years, I have written about people I know and the stories of their personal journeys.  It has always been pretty easy for me to hide their identities and change the details enough to protect them, while still passing on critique, life lessons, or a challenge to address what’s wrong.

But that had gotten increasingly more difficult.

Honestly, it’s easy for someone to criticize the actions or attitudes of another, when you don’t really know who they are.  When they are at an arm’s distance.  When they are on the other side of a computer monitor.  When they sit in an ivory tower or underneath a freeway overpass.

When they have no names, they aren’t real people.

It can be even more complicated for pastors.  I follow a number of high-profile christian types who constantly come out with both barrels loaded, criticizing and judging all “types” of people who claim to follow Jesus.  They find fault with church leadership and rail against different theologies.  They condemn certain behaviors, while praising those they see as superior. They write boldly to the anonymous, generalized “other”

And they do it from pulpits with moats of separation.  They do it from insulated board rooms and the protective confines of inner circles.

But I can’t hide like that.  I walk with people who sin just like I do.  I share meals and laughter and shortcomings with people I call friends.  I see the failures of people whose names I know and paths I share and messes I wade into.  I see myself in them.  As a pastor, I can’t play dumb to what I see.  I can’t ignore what is wrong and needs to be fixed.  I can’t turn a blind eye.  I’m a card-carrying people helper.

But a blog or a post from the safety of my recliner and the protection of a screen is not the place to do it.  And that’s where I have found myself the past year…fighting the urge to call out the unhealthy and damaging behaviors of the people I love from this unfiltered internet stage.  So I experienced a sort of paralysis.

And I think it was a good thing.

So I am now ready to move forward and write again.  Most sin is common to all.  The only difference is degree.  I’ll continue to work hard to protect the identities of my friends, while confronting those things that damage us, separate us, and undercut the grace of God.

But it sure would be a lot easier to live insulated from real friendship and calloused to the effect of my words on others.

On second thought, pastors really shouldn’t blog.

The deep end

The Deep EndA few days ago, I met up with an old friend, Bob.

We met each other in 1978 and became close during our late college years.  Shortly after I moved on to youth ministry in Huntington Beach in 1980, Bob joined up with Wycliffe Bible Translators.  He spent some years in linguistics schools, met his wife (also a translator), started a family, and has spent the past 30 years helping to translate the God’s Word for people groups on the other side of the world who have never read a Bible.

That’s a great story worth hearing about.  But not today.

But this one is.  Bob and I have not seen or talked to each other since the last time we were in a church camp together in 1984.  Through the years, we have exchanged a few Christmas cards and some missionary newsletters.  Once the internet was created, we sent some emailsbut nothing very detailed.

The reality is we’ve both been pretty focused on where God planted us and investing in people we were sharing life with.  As it should be.

I suppose that’s what made last Wednesday such a good evening.

Bob was in town for a conference with the Wycliffe affiliate he is working with these days.  We had made plans several months ago to get together for dinner, if our schedules could match up.

I pulled up to the hotel and texted him that I was waiting out in front, by my jeep.  As the lobby door opened, I recognized him immediatelyjust as he recognized me.  Thirty years had changed some things in his appearance (mine, too), but not his eyesand not his voiceand not the warm embrace.

He hopped into the jeepwell, he actually struggled into the jeephis hip replacement hadn’t fully healed yet(ah, old people problems) and within seconds, we had picked up immediately where we had left off thirty years previous.  Amazing.

No small talk.  No casual dancing.  Straight to the heart.  We spoke of our love of our families, of the church, of God’s Word, of the poor and oppressed, of Jesus.  We dove quickly into the hurts and frustrations and fears and disappointments and mistakes in our lives.   The conversation moved effortlessly.   Joy mixed with sadness.  Hope filled with reality.  Much laughter.  A few tears.

After 3-4 hours of conversation (encouraged by the ambiance of the smells and tastes of Hard Eight BBQ in Coppell), our evening ended as quickly as it had started.  A quick drive back to the hotel, a good-bye hug and best wishes to our families, and a resolve not to let another thirty years pass before we shared brisket and our hearts again.

It was a great evening.

Do you have friendships like that in your life?  People who demand life in the “deep end”?  Friends who are not content with small talk, gossip, and petty?  Real brothers (or sisters) that don’t demand the veneer of shallow, but quickly cut to the heartno matter how much time has passed?

They don’t come easy.  The cost is steep.  But they are worth everything.

I wish them for you.

(If you felt like this was a “bait and switch” on the Calvinism thread, sorry.  It will be back soon.  This was just on my heart today…)

Bad sermon

BadHere’s the backstory…

Two weeks ago, I had surgery on my knee.  It was “old man surgery”a scope of the knee to file down and remove what little cartilage was left, clean up bone spurs, and do who-knows-what to a torn ligament.  I should be back to dunking basketballs in a couple of months.

I figured after all the surgeries I’ve had, I would be good to go for preaching the next Sunday.  Surely, five days recoup time would be more than enough.  The problem was getting a clear enough head to write the sermon during the recoup time.  Ooops.

Without completely re-living the disaster, let’s just say I stepped up to the front, looked down at my iPad and had no clue what my sermon was about.  Nothing.  Nada.  I’m staring at a page that makes no sense.  For some reason, whatever seemed good on Saturday night in my recliner quickly turned into a train wreck on Sunday morning.  Both services.

Between a clueless sermon, some kind of unplanned reaction to meds, and the collection of dumbfounded looks on North Point parishioners, it was definitely in my “Not Top Ten” ministry moments of all time. Probably top five.

I suppose yesterday was better.  My head wasn’t spinningand my sermon made sense.  At least to me.  When the bar is set low enough, it doesn’t take much to clear it.

Here’s how the story defines me and my world:

After my sermon was over last week, both immediately and throughout the week, I got no compassion.  What I got was a steady flow of sacred harassment.  And it hasn’t stopped this week, either.   And that’s what the church is supposed to be.  Normal.

Good friends don’t let friends get away with blowing it big time.  There’s a price to pay.   I have been the object of much joking, ribbing, text banter, dissing and loving disrespect.   And all of it well-deserved.

Friends don’t let friends take themselves seriously.  And friends don’t let their ministers be anything more than normal, everyday people.

I am grateful for the kinds of friends who accept me as I am and let me be just another guy.  Oh, there will probably always be those who expect me to have all the (Bible) answersor think that my prayers will be more effective at the side of a hospital bedor that my righteousness will be something more than Pharisaical.

But most simply let me be a fellow struggler getting by on the same common grace that everyone else does.  No special grace required.

Bad sermon and all…

You may have missed this…

True GreatnessIf you are one of those people who follow my blog and actually read the comments, you have probably been left shaking your head in amazed confusion by something  the churchbad@@  has said.

However, yesterday, he ascended the hill of profunditylike, big-timewith his comment about differences and conflict in the church.  It’s worth putting on the big stage for all to see:

Many moons ago, I manned up and had lunch with the Ass. Pastor  and apologized for walking away from that church and for how the church did my soon to be in-laws wrong.  I think this act matured my faith more than giving a homeless person $$ or watching a Christmas Pageant.

I don’t think non-believers would ever understand why I did this, nor would someone that rides the fence of faith.  We live in a world of “I’ll get you back”

It seems that my common theme anytime I post on your blog is – It’s always “me” that gets in the way of “God Greatness”.   I have no other entity to blame.

I feel like I have gone off topic from your posting, but I feel like that act of church is much more than just setting aside differences – That just seems very passive.  It seems to me that at some point a church member will need to apologize for their actions.  I don’t think there is a way to attend church and not have to say “I am sorry” for something.  Then you will see God’s greatness.

Those are some pretty stinking cool words, BA.

I know sometimes people just need to leave a church family.  It’s not unusual and it’s not the end of the world.

But dealing with the pain of old friendships that simply die when people move on is one of the most difficult things I’ve had to learn to deal withand nobody ever prepared me for.  But it’s my world.

It’s kind of sad knowing that most of them don’t miss our old friendship as much as I do.

The greatness of a taco

imageAre you having trouble with another person?  Do you question their motives?  Have they said something you don’t understand?  Have their words cut in and done some damage?

Do you wonder where you stand with a person you thought was a friend?  Do they do something that annoys you?  Are you walking on eggshells?  Is trust broken or completely absent in your friendship?

Is there a wall?  Is there a break in unity?  Is there hollowness, fear, intimidation, sadness, hurt or callousness…where there should be peace, comradery, teamwork, loyalty and fun?

If you care enough to want things to be better, I have a plan.

Go eat a taco together.

Yup.  Call the person up and invite them to share a plate of tacos with you.  Amazing things can happen when you break tortillas together…with some fire-roasted salsa and a side of guacamole.

Guards can come down.  Listening can happen.  Fears can be dispelled.  Questions can be asked and answered.  Trust can be built.

Is it a fool-proof plan?  No way.  Some might come just for the taco.  Some might not come at all.  But at least you would have done what Jesus would have done.

He would have definitely had a taco and cleared the air.

Jesus understands the greatness of a taco.