Life from the rear-view mirror

Ouch!….my brain hurts! VOL 109

bangEvery once in a while I take an opportunity to listen to the Christian apologist, Ravi Zacharias. I can’t do it very often…it hurts my brain. But when I do take on the challenge, I’m always glad I did.
God is the author of intellect and he has blessed many men like Ravi with a unique ability to communicate a higher disciplined Christian thought to an audience whose brains are tuned to receive it. Or maybe just tuned-in enough to be able to hear it. There is a difference.
Whenever questions about theology or God get too deep or too complicated for me, I run to “Because God said it.” That’s my default rationale, my bedrock. It works for me. I can get to that absolute without having to tackle any of the bigger picture stuff that stumbles the real thinkers. I don’t dismiss the hard stuff like election or omniscience, or eschatology…but I rarely wade into those waters with people. Mostly because it’s a great place to get bushwhacked…to pick an argument with us “shallow thinkers” who can be easily overwhelmed with partial truth that is (often aggressively) presented as fact.


My younger brother is a pastor of a small local community church. He went into the pastorate later in life after a successful business career. It took him 5 years to get through the education he needed. It was a long hard road…but he made it though. All during that time and still today, I benefit from his education too. Our monthly lunches are often a source of theological discussion, education and sometimes correction. That lunch-table education helps me to at least appreciate some of the diverse thought around the academics of theology.


But at the end of the all-too-often self-righteous, complex arguments and debates surrounding theology… is the simple truth of the gospel. A truth that even a child can understand and believe. The truth that God loves us with a love bigger than we can comprehend…and that he wants to be known by us and have a relationship with us. I don’t fully understand that…I know I don’t deserve that kind of love or the sacrifice that Christ made on the cross for me. But by faith I have made that truth my own and it has changed me internally and eternally.


I’m very thankful there are those like Ravi who can discuss, debate and even persuade the thinkers of the world to consider the concepts and claims of the Bible on a much higher level than I will ever be able to.


But I’m also very thankful to be able to understand, receive and live out the simple truth of the gospel that still changes lives for all of us. Those who live in the heady clouds of academia as well as those of us down here in the trenches.

Life in-between the lines…. VOL 108

Here we are at nearly 3am. I just polished off a bowl of cereal and hopefully I’ll be able to get a couple hours of sleep before Kathy has to get up at 5:30am and drive to Troy, NY for a meeting…

but probably not…

I had a bit of an epiphany whilst eating my Special K (with berries…) Just a wee bit of one…kinda like an “epiph…”
Anyway…as I prepare to turn 61 in a couple of days and looking back on my life…it’s been pretty interesting. I guess that can be both good and bad…I’ve been told you don’t want to get that sentiment in a fortune cookie…”interesting” can me a LOT of things. At least the Chinese think so…or whoever makes fortune cookies.


Over the years I’ve gotten to do a lot of cool stuff, meet a lot of great people, and made a lot of friends. I have had some great jobs and some pretty awful ones…and for a couple of years made some pretty good money. I’ve seen God do some amazing things in my life and in the lives of others. I’ve been blessed with a wonderful wife…(twice) and have 4 kids who I love with all of what is left of my heart *                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          
That would have been funnier if you had all known that I had a heart attack a while ago…


I’m not trying to be too spiritual here…but on rare occasions I can learn a lesson from me.  That’s the benefit of hindsight I guess. So…some of the richness in my life has simply been serendipitous… kind of like “common grace”…but much of it has been because of two things. First… that I was available. Second…that I was willing.  Please trust me when I say I am NO spiritual giant. But I do try to be aware of God working in my life…especially in the lulls* of life when it doesn’t feel like God is there.
*note from the author: A lull can be very important. A lull can be a segue to a “thing” and so on.

*(I learned about lulls from Jerry Seinfeld on “Comedians in cars getting coffee” It’s on Crackle…worth a watch.)

History with God is no small matter. It’s often when you do pause and reflect that we see his hand in situations…his guidance and direction…his mercy and grace…his unconditional love. I hope you already know that. But if you don’t…believe me…It’s worth the time to take a backwards glance. It will often influence your forward direction.


OK…on with it…well no…I guess that’s it.

My brain just informed the rest of me that we’re closed for the evening.

Do you have a reckless heart? VOL 107

recklessI’ve been thinking about something lately as I watch my kids bounce in and out of relationships. It’s a question that we as parents need to pose to our kids…and probably to ourselves as well.
“Am I being reckless with my heart?”
What does that even mean?
I know what being reckless with a car means…it’s driving in a way that could cause an accident…damage your vehicle…cause financial loss…physical pain…maybe even take a life.
Being reckless in any form can be…is…dangerous. Heart recklessness can really mess with you.


I remember when I was a young lad…just starting that big testosterone drip…I asked my dad about dating and when that magical event could happen for me. His immediate response was “when you are 16.” It was like he had been practicing that line. Like somehow me and the universe and Tari (the older woman (18) I was interested in…) would mix it up at the stroke of midnight on my 16th birthday. Sadly that didn’t happen…Tari got pregnant (by her 19 year old boyfriend)… and I really never saw her much after that. But man…for a few weeks there…I was in deep…something. My heart was invested. Every time the song “Portrait of my Love” came on the radio my heart would hurt…ache. I would work out ways to sit next to her in church…find some goofy reason to call her…

I was emotionally destroyed when I heard the news about Tari…not because I really knew Tari…it was the story about Tari and me that I kept telling myself…and allowing myself to believe that did the damage. Reckless.

But recklessness is not just for romance. It works its way into every area of life and can cause real damage if left unchecked…or unquestioned.


If I haven’t been obvious enough here…heart recklessness IS head recklessness. It’s the way we think combined with the way we process and act on, or act out our self-talk… or react to circumstances. A reckless heart doesn’t care if you are a believer or not…because it’s born of pride…greed…self interest. We often encourage its bad behavior… but we were born with a heart that desires, intends and often follows after recklessness. And even if/when we become a Christ follower, we still have to fight those tendencies…sometimes even more than before we came to faith…because at that moment we trust Christ…we become much more aware of the crud in our lives…the recklessness of our hearts. But with Christ there is hope for real change… without him…we are left to our conscience or pithy psycho-babble to try and reign it in.


I’m having to ask myself this question and I’m asking for my family as a husband and father. Am I?…Are we? being reckless with our hearts and minds?


I don’t want to be reckless…and I don’t want “self-control” either for me or my family. My heart’s desire for me and for them is “control of self.”

More on that later….

Too easily satisfied… VOL 106

I’m amazed at what we become satisfied with in our walk with the Lord.
“If with all your hearts you truly seek me…you shall ever surely find me…thus saith our God”
I sang that song from Mendelssohn’s Elijah for some solo competition a hundred years ago…only thinking about how I would be judged for my musical performance of it…and not giving a single thought to the living out of it.
I don’t know if I’ve ever done anything with ALL my heart. I have, however, been accused of doing lots of things half-ass’d.


The concept of being all-in, body and soul, tooth and nail…all those phrases that we use to describe the passion and grit of life are often missed in our pursuit of holiness and fulfillment in our faith walk…that is… if there is a pursuit of it at all.


Worshipping-TVI have been guilty at times of just “letting it happen.” Only seeking and engaging God when there’s sickness or tragedy or poverty on the line. (Read that: “When I can’t figure it out’)
That is embarrassing to admit, but it’s true. What would it mean to my enjoyment of God if I truly found him and not shadows of him…not the image of him I have in my mind…or the concept of him I heard from a preacher, but him…the God of the Bible. What joys are waiting…What strength? What wisdom? What peace?…What rest?


The challenge is really not in the finding of God…he told us he could be found. The challenge is in the seeking of him with all our hearts. Putting aside the idols and obstacles that we’ve created, Deciding that “all-in” will describe our seeking after him from this point forward.


It’s not like we don’t know this. And it’s mentioned or inferred quite a bit in scripture. We are instructed to “Trust the Lord with ALL your heart…” “Love the Lord your God with ALL your heart, soul and mind” to name just a couple.


So what’ll it be Christian? Are we going to settle for mediocrity in our pursuit of God…or will we work up a thirst for him that can only be quenched in the finding of him?


So start your journey! Don’t ask Siri to find God for you…and don’t plug “God” into your GPS…(even though that might be interesting…) this seeking God is about digging into the Word…hitting our proverbial knees and “wanting” him to be your heart’s desire…your passion…your reward.


Here is a beautiful thought. This is not a one-sided endeavor… and it’s not hide and seek.

 

As hard as it may seem to believe at times…God wants to be found by me and you.

 

Part 2 I am impulsive…does that make me a bad person? VOL 105

Part 2 I am impulsive…does that make me a bad person?

It’s not that I can’t plan…it’s more like I don’t want to. It’s annoying…why sit and think about what I’m going to do…why not just do it? Of course that’s flawed logic…I know that…but it doesn’t make me any more likely to plan.

As I re-read that statement and pull out “my truth” in it…I find it’s missing something. And that is this…while I might not bullet point my day’s activity, I do have a pretty good idea of what is going to happen… but when there are options, I’m going to force the day into my mold any time it’s possible. Did that resonate with anyone? Let me say it another way. I’m going to do what I want to do…regardless.

Going out on a limb here…but in my experience…impulsive people are generally selfish. They are not unaware of the needs and priorities of God and family and work and others…they just elevate their own priorities to a higher position than all the rest. They/we ultimately do what they want to do…first…often to the exclusion of all else.

Before I vilify all impulsive people,(and I are one…) let me just say that not all of us are selfish all the time. We have our moments when our impulsive actions are totally altruistic. Those moments are found more often than you might think as we “impulsives” who belong to the family of God still have the Holy Spirit guiding (sometimes “fighting”) us.

It is in those moments when we actually yield and follow the Holy Spirit’s leading that God seems to use that impulsiveness for his glory.

Part 1…I am impulsive…does that make me a bad person? VOL 101

Part 1…I am impulsive…does that make me a bad person?

There are sometimes in life when being impulsive works for you. Maybe you have a wonderful experience you never would have had if you had waited for the rain to stop…or perhaps you meet someone special because you just got right up from your seat and introduced yourself…or maybe you have a big business win because you went with your gut when all the signs were pointing in a different direction. Maybe the inspiration hits and you stop what you were doing and paint a masterpiece.

Sometimes being impulsive just works out…but sometimes it doesn’t.


Sometimes when you squeeze the toothpaste from the middle you lose half the tube down the drain…sometimes you have to spend $4000 to get the $1000 car you bought in a hurry, to run at all. Sometimes that “thing” that you couldn’t live without in the moment, ends up forcing you into a decision you should never have had to make in the first place. Sometimes a bad investment with your time creates an unintended consequence and false priority.


As an impulsive person…which I can be…scratch that…which I am…I often find myself at the intersection of risk and reward without my glasses.

Sometimes I have simply forgotten my glasses…and sometimes…I have left them home on purpose.

Stay tuned for part 2…I have to go…I just saw something shiny..

Metal to Mettle…. VOL 105

tumblr_nh803mdR1r1s6fchho1_500I’m very thankful for believing friends who I can ask tough questions of. Who, after hearing what I’m asking, start the conversation with “I’m not sure I’m the right person for you to be talking to.”

In my experience, that usually means I’m not going to get some top-of-mind, sugar-coated, pithy answer. It might mean I’m going to get an answer that is hard to hear…but worth listening to.

The Bible has this wonderful analogy of speaking into another’s life for their good. “As iron sharpens iron…” You can almost see the sparks flying and feel the heat when the metals collide. It’s a spectacular occurrence.

There is pounding and pressure and light as the metals react to each other. Each sacrificing something of itself… being changed from rough objects of unknown potential into useful tools…even weapons.
This is no accidental collision…it is purposeful…it is meaningful…it yields something better for both metals to have undergone this beating of sorts…this holy process.

When our Compass tumbles… VOL 104

Concept image of a lost and confused signpost against a blue cloudy sky.

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Two days ago our senior pastor resigned.

There was no power struggle or scandal. No immorality. No one asked him to step down. No one would have ever thought he was thinking of leaving.
Truthfully, at 15 years into the ministry here… he was senior pastor of a vibrant, growing church of well over 2000 members and attenders who called Northridge home…and who attended one of three campuses in the greater Rochester area.

David successfully led a major transition of a small traditional church through tremendous change and growth. It took 15 years. I was there for 8 of them. It wasn’t easy at times, and, if we can believe anything about what it takes to transition a small church to where we are now…the change was unlikely to work. But it did.
So why would any senior pastor leave a ministry like this ? Why now when God is so obviously blessing?
It’s a question many of us are still wrestling with… if we’re honest.  Isn’t success in ministry defined by the growth and maturity of the congregation and staff? Isn’t that what’s happening here? We call it “more and better disciples” and if you look around isn’t that evident? The answer is “yes” if you hadn’t guessed.
So what makes a senior pastor resign, leave the pastorate and move his family 1500 miles away, then take a cut in pay on top of it all?
I’m totally convinced that it is God moving in him to use him in a different way… In a different role…In a different place. Not that ministry in any sense is easy…But the convenient thing for David might have been to say…”Lord, I’m comfortable here. We have a good thing going… You are at work right here!” But he didn’t. He was listening for God’s voice. And when he heard it… He responded with “yes.” Even though God’s voice could have been drowned out by all the ministry and personal success. Or by the staff he had groomed and grown…or the voices of those folks who come Sunday after Sunday investing their time, their money and their heart in this church. Investing in the vision that God led David to cast. David could have been swayed by the lives that have been changed for the gospel’s sake because of God’s faithfulness or by those of us who just love him and want him to stay.
But he is leaving. And with that departure, dreaded change will be ushered in. Things might get bumpy…uncertain maybe.
We as a church body have a choice to make. Some will choose well and sadly…some will choose poorly.  We can take our ball and go home…hurt and disillusioned or we can dig in, pray up and look forward to what God is going to do next at Northridge.
It won’t necessarily be easy…in fact,  I’m sure it will be hard. It will still hurt to see David and his family go. But for what it’s worth, I’m convinced that this is a move authored by God for the benefit of David, his family AND Northridge.
So we start a new transition at Northridge. Last night we talked about it in community group. And while it’s true that our circumstances at Northridge are changing…God never does. He is the rock that our faith and hope and trust rely on. We can never lose sight of that.
People will come and go in our lives. Some, like David… will impact our lives so greatly and profoundly that when they change direction unexpectedly, our compasses tumble and it takes us a while to get our bearing. That’s OK. God is faithful. This is his church, we are his people and we live for his honor and glory. And he, God, the designer and builder of all we know will keep us and love us through the changes and beyond. He is our purpose and direction. We are at work building his kingdom on earth until we join him in heaven one day.
So it is with Godspeed that we say goodbye to David Whiting and family for now… and wish them all God’s blessings in this new adventure.

Casual Accountability…you don’t have to MEAN it do you? VOL 103

accountability20partner_zpsm26rebuyI don’t know about you… But I really don’t like to be held accountable. I always want an out…a way to deflect or defer. I don’t want the blame to rest with me. I want the buck to stop someplace else. I want to be able to say something and mean something else and be let off the hook. I want to feign real change and be ok to back off commitments. I want to be able to say one thing and do another with no real consequence.
I want casual accountability.
Real accountability is too hard. It’s too risky. It makes me too vulnerable. It takes too much time.
I’ve been thinking about this a bit lately. (If you hadn’t noticed) I’ve been trying to be honest about my leadership commitment to our community group. I’ve been evaluating whether or not I’m relevant other than by being a name on a roster…. Or the one responsible to upload the attendance figures. I mean it’s not like I can’t fill a couple hours on a Wednesday night right? So what’s the point? Is there any value here?  I know that is a selfish way to look at it… But I’m at a point where I’m tired and stressed and a little fearful of the future as it relates to life outcomes based on my effort. In other words ” I suck at holding myself accountable to much of anything.” Now that’s not absolutely true… But true enough to scare me some…OK…a lot.
Truth? I want to talk about being accountable… But I don’t really want to be accountable or I would be. It’s a choice I have to make in a “real life” sort of way…not just a mental assent to the truth of it. That is a big rub right there. At least for me.
It’s really a character issue… And as I’ve observed me over these last 61 years…it is most definitely a chink in my armor. That has to change.
If I lived in the magical world of “Doug” where the only person I affected with my character flaws was me.. That would be bad enough. But throw in a wife, kids, a job, friends and the like…and character issues can create fractures and fissures and other words that start with “f.” I often act like I have intentionally taken a hit out on my own character.
As a believer, you’d think it would be more than enough accountability to know that God’s expectation of me (us) is holiness. And I really want to obey God here…but can I please accomplish it without having to do anything about it? God can you stop convicting me about my thought life, my spending habits and the way I talk to my wife? Do I get any points for just “wanting” to be holy even if I never really change?
I know the answer… So do you. It is about being willing to do whatever it takes to be more like Jesus. And then actually doing it. And while God is our ultimate accountability partner…it often helps to share our burdens and shortcomings with people who know us and are willing to speak into our lives to help us…as we give them permission…(read that: if we LET them) Then, honor their commitment to us by working diligently on our lives. It’s not a one and done thing. It’s a daily sacrifice. There’s no pill for this…trust me… I’d have the Rx

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So where does that leave me early on my 61st birthday morning? Well…I’m working on prying that knowledge out of my head and working up the courage to both want to change…(cause this ain’t really working for me.)..and actually changing.
Even though I know that being accountable to God and to holiness is right…and obedient, I’ve compromised for so long that this change towards accountability to God and to myself will be a long process forward.

How does God get to you? VOL 102

judge-finger-wagging-pointing-300x449-RFHow does God best teach you?

We all learn differently. For some, just focusing on the positive outcomes of a particular action is all they need to stay happily on the path to Nirvana…or wherever happy paths lead. For others it’s a catastrophe-avoidance mentality. ‘If I DON’T do this, all hell is gonna break loose!” Each discipline (if you can call it that) has advantages.
I’m not sure how much of either is based on a choice or simply default personality.
I like to think of myself as a “glass half-full” kind of guy. But Kathy often calls me her Eeyore. I have to balance my inner Eeyore with the promise I made to Kathy to make her laugh at least once a day when we got married. Thankfully, we both have a dark, sarcastic side that can wring a laugh out of some pretty unlikely places…like a tech call to Time Warner Cable. Enough said…
Maybe it’s because I’m Jewish that it’s easier for me to whine about the possibility of negative consequences…than see the silver lining in…well…anything…Oy! Double Oy!
I guess my real point here is more about getting past our internal wiring long enough to learn what God wants to teach us. And he does want to teach us…
Pastor/Teachers have a tough job communicating to get through everybody’s filters. But that is the beauty of the Gospel and God’s Word. It’s like a universal solvent that can un-stick all the crud that’s stuck in our filters. Maybe fuel system cleaner is a better analogy. Regular application makes us run better, stronger, longer and with better mileage and more horsepower…whatever that means.


Today was catastrophe-avoidance…the glass half-full thing? It didn’t work for me today…and full-on catastrophe was what I ended up with… or in…I’m not sure. As the catastrophe unfolded I was trying desperately to hear God’s voice in it… because I really needed to hear it. I needed direction and certainty and clarity. But what I got was calamity. I called on a friend to help. A friend who just last week I told I wanted to be accountable to. And in the midst of him reaching out to try and speak truth into my circumstance… I disengaged. In every text message from him I saw my failure as a parent and I was too proud and too hurt to hear any more.


So a sleepless night and countless reflections later… I’m learning.

Oy! and ouch!

Painful lessons are not my favorite…but often where I learn the most…like it or not.


I’m going back to bed.