Sunday, September 17, 2006


Ok, so I have the greatest wife. Why do you ask? Well many of you remember a prior post about a certain bass that was being made for a certain person (me).

This weekend 9 months of hard sweat and labor by Devon, culminated with me picking up this amazing piece of art work.

If you are wondering, Alana is gaelic for "beautiful, offering".

First she is beautiful. I’ve included pictures. The craftsmanship is only top notch. Much more that I even expected, some details I do not even understand.

The core of the body is made of swamp ash, and the face cover and the back cover of Koa. Koa is the most beautiful of woods, I am really proud of it. The swamp ash gives a great warm sound. The neck is composed of walnut with maple veneer between each piece. It is also a neck through, providing better sound and a cool look. The design of the neck essentially gives each sting it own individual neck.

I love the pickups. Double hum bucker Bartolinis. The full hum bucking opposed to the single coils gives her an amazing sound.

The sound by the way is the best part. I have never heard a better fretless. This baby wails, and she sounds so good doing it. I actually had a dream about her a few days before I picked her up and the sound in real life was even better than in my dream.

I love you Michelle and I thank you for this wonderful gift.

Does anyone want to jam?

Tuesday, July 25, 2006


Being in China I have had the worst and the best cups of coffee of my life. If you know anything about me you will know I have a sick obession with coffee. I am always looking for the best beans, the best brewing process, the best roast, etc.

Worst cup of coffee: Pudong International Airport in Shanghai. 7:00AM in the morning after waking up at 5:00AM to catch the flight to Hong Kong I was desperately in need of java. The only place to buy it was a little café inside the international terminal. In the end I paid $7.50, that is U.S. dollars for a cup of instant coffee. They claimed it was Colombian (I have learned that in China that translates into crappy coffee). Aside from that it was a really bad instant coffee. No amount of cream or sugar could salvage this cup. All I know Chinese are not big coffee drinkers, they prefer tea.

All this mentioned only to contrast…

Best cup of coffee: Shanghai in particular has a large European influence. Michelle and I have found this great teahouse that we spend Sunday afternoons at to reflect and connect with one another. It is part of our Sabbath, and it is just a few blocks from church. Afternoon tea includes a bottomless pot of tea and an assortment of bit size sandwiches, and desserts (the crème bruele is my favorite). This past week I opted to try the coffee option instead of the tea. Expecting a pot of coffee, they brought me just one mug. This mug however contained the creamiest most enjoyable cup of coffee. It was as thick as espresso and it redeemed all the bad coffee I had in China over the past weeks. Aside from that it was served with frothed cream and brown sugar. The cream is hot so it does not cool of the coffee, and the froth gives it a pseudo cappuccino feel, but much stronger than a cappuccino. May I add that brown sugar is much much better than white sugar in coffee, something I am definitely bringing back to the States.

So now I am finding these coffees all over the place.

Here is to coffee

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Faith Without Deeds is Dead

Faith Without Deeds is Dead

A lot is being written about how young people are leaving the traditional church. Many people have speculated why this is occurring. Christian Smith’s, Soul Searching, actually presents empirical evidence that young people are not leaving the church, but in reality are imitating that same faith of their parents. Mark DeVries in Family Based Youth Ministry argues that while many youth do not practice faith in college those who were raised in the church return to the church in their mid 20’s.

The discussions I have been reading concerning the emerging church have centered around this migration from the church. The emerging church places the issue in the context of a modern generation (the boomers) and a postmodern generation. The emergence of postmodern epistemology demands a fresh understanding of faith, that will then reach the younger generation. Emergents find fault with the modern epistemology and find it stifling. They prefer the freedom of the postmodern epistemology to correct the errors of the modern church.

I do agree that the church is sick (will always be sick to some degree). I do find serious fault with the current status quo of evangelicalism. I do wonder how much this is really a case of epistemology. It might be rooted in epistemology, but that is not the problem.

My criticism against that church is that is has abandoned practice, orthopraxy. Evangelicalism as a movement sought to wed the divide of orthodoxy and social concerns, but it has not gone far enough.

What concerns me most is that salvation continues to be defined as “believing” a set of propositions, which if you believe you will go to heaven when you die. If you do not believe these propositions you will go to hell when you die.

The question that should really be asked is what is salvation all about? What are we being saved from? Hell or our fallen state as sinful beings? If it is only hell then really salvation has no meaning in our current existence. If it is from our sinful fallen state then salvation bears to play right now, every day.

Early Christians called themselves followers of “the way”. Salvation is then a way of life. It is the new humanity that was inaugurated in the life of Christ, realized in the death of Christ, and made available in the resurrection and ascension of Christ. Salvation is then citizens of God’s kingdom living in the world under the reign of Christ; freed from the baggage of guilt, shame, and slavery to sin, with the freedom to choose a better way.

The protestant church has always placed “faith” in front of “practice”. Such a division is exactly the danger James warns us of in his epistle. This is also the book of the Bible Luther wanted to throw out of the canon. James writes that our deeds show us our faith.

So what do you believe in? Do you believe that you are saved? Why and from what? And how does that make you live your life? Is being a Christian mean you do not drink in front of non-Christians, do not smoke, do not go to the strip club? Or does it also mean you are known as a compassionate, loving, sacrificial person? Why do we settle for a faith that gives us a new law instead of a new heart?

Smith’s book has a down right chilling chapter on the state of Christianity in America. Youth are imitating their parents’ faith which is apparently not Christian at all. Essentially while church statements of faith my fall within orthodoxy their practice is anything but. Smith presents empirical evidence that Christians look exactly the same as the rest of the culture in terms of use of money, values, and such. Christians still tend to be more moral, but do not understand the traditional Chrisitan faith. He calls it Moral Therapeutic Deism.

So what are your thoughts?

Will we embody a faith that brings hope to the world?

Sunday, July 16, 2006


Confession #1 - Door jam

Let me tell you how not to start off your weekend away in the resort city of Hongzhou, China. By the time we got from the train station to the hotel it was a little after 10PM,and our friends Andy and Andie wanted to take us to their favorite teahouse in all of China. We took a walk down to the lake and picked up a taxi. The ride was smooth and as scenic as could be. As the “big guy” of the group (I am a large person in China), I sat in the front of the cab.

The surroundings were much more scenic in Hongzhou then Shanghai and as we stepped out of the cab I was taking it all in. As I gently shut the front door to the taxi and odd sensation came over me, and for some reason I could not get my hand off of the door – it was stuck. As I thought to myself why am I stuck to the taxi, my party began to run ahead of me and as my brain processed the scenario I finally realized that my thumb was trapped inside the rear door. The door fully shut on my thumb so I had to open it up again to get myself free of the taxi. I truly thank God that the taxi did speed off as they are prone to do, and taking my thumb with him.

What do we do all four of us are in a strange town? Is it broken? I can bend it – must not be broken. The ice and the Advil seem sufficient for the evening. In the morning my thumb locked up, and I can still bend it, but with a horrible pain and popping sound the thumb worked. Something is wrong.

I foolishly and macho like, endure the weekend, and returning to Shanghai I find an expat hospital. The good news is that the thumb is fine. I wore a splint for about a week, and the popping went away, though the pain returns from time to time. The hand surgeon believes I tore some cartilage in the joint – nothing to do but eat cartilage.
The good news is that the taxi did not speed off with my thumb, and I can play the guitar again.

Confession #2 - $1.25

We were in Beijing for the weekend. It was a long weekend, and Michelle had to work on Friday and Monday. She also has a lot of contacts in Beijing, and other expats were in town so we had a lot of time with them. It was really nice Rockwell provided a driver to show us around, and take us to the great wall. Needless to say we had little time to ourselves. The only time allotted over the four days were three hours on Sunday afternoon. Wanting a relaxing place we could talk we decide to take a taxicab to the equivalent of Central Park in Beijing.

We hail a taxi from the Hotel. Let me say taxi drivers in Beijing have the worst reputation of all Chinese cities. We explain where we want to go and the driver seems to understand. We pull out and the driver misses the first turn. We point and he says he is in the right place. Where are we? We pulled into the next hotel’s alcove. Then we go next door to that hotel, and sit behind the other taxis in the next alcove. And repeat to the next hotel. 10 minutes later we are about to pass our hotel again because all we have done is circled the block sitting in other hotel alcoves.

“Alright Michelle, get out we are getting a different cab this guy is taking us for a ride.”

So we jump out, we can easily walk back to our hotel. We get down the road about 300 meters, and the driver comes running after us. He gets in my face to pay him the 10 yuan ($1.25) for the ride.

“You did not take me anywhere, my hotel is right there I am not paying you anything.”

I brush pass him and he grabs my arm and starts dragging me toward the cab. He has a tight two handed grab at this point. I continue to protest that I am not paying him. And at this point the crowd at the nearby Starbucks is watching on, and a bilingual man intervenes to help with communication.

Michelle and I begin to walk away again, and this time he grabs me even tighter a pulls even harder. Michelle is ready to pounce on him, my only restraint is the fear of any sort of altercation with the Beijing police, but for the first time in my life I seriously consider hitting a man.

Reason kicks in: A fight is not worth a $1.25. I walk back to the taxi with the man, write down the taxi company name and his taxi license number, and then pay him the $1.25. We went back to the hotel and reported the driver to the hotel, who called his company and the police.

We finally made it to the park, and that evening received a letter of apology from the driver and his company, as well as our $1.25.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Lesson on Redemption: Hongqiao Airport - Shanghai, China

Worst day of my life. Worse then the day in 3rd grade when the class bully dragged my face across the black top.

I barely slept last night. I honestly felt tortured by something from beyond my senses. Perhaps it was just something I ate. Woke up every few hours sweating, tossing and turning – terrified. Finally at 4:30 in the morning I forced myself to vomit. I Began to feel a little better. Tossed and turned for another few hours, and had to keep CNN on and stay in an upright position. Michelle was out of town so I was solo through all this.

I had to check out of the hotel by noon, but my flight to Beijing was not supposed to leave until 8. Not wanting to be far from a toilet, what do I do? Aside from all this I feel really alone in a one of the most densely populated cities on the planet with no one to talk to for the last week because Michelle had to travel to another city.

I will spare the rest of the details from the day, but it did not get much better.

I arrive the airport 3 hours before my flight, grab dinner. When I arrive to the gate find out the flight is delayed indefinitely. So I Call Michelle find out her flight is cancelled (she was in a city called Dalian, we were meeting in Beijing for a long weekend) and will not get to Beijing until the next night now.

I feel like screaming at this point. I am surrounded by hundreds of people, amongst whom you have to throw elbows to get a seat. Indefinitely having to sit somehwere I threw elbows to get my seat. None of them are able to speak with me. The airport is very loud as well, and the PA announces either a cancellation or delay every 2 minutes. All I want in the world is to see Michelle – which it does not look like it will happen.

U2 is my only hope. “Running to Stand Still” clams my troubled soul once again. I finally began to pray. A simple prayer I: a confession of my horrible attitude over the past week, worst of all in this horrible airport situation. An honest prayer telling God how I was feeling. A few more U2 songs…

“Where are you from?” Came from the calmest softest voice I had heard in days.

I turned to my left to see that indeed I was the one being addressed. The source of the voice was a 12-13 year old girl. Looking it seemed to practice her English and explore her curiosity of the white man in the crowd. We got to talking a bit, and she asked what I do. I found the easiest way to explain my job to the Chinese is that I teach other people about the Bible. She wanted me to teach her right away.

So, I had about 10 minutes to explain the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. She knew the story of creation and the temptation with the fruit tree, and she knew Jesus raised from the dead and it was something about forgiveness. I emphasized God created us to be at peace, and is restoring our peace. She was perhaps the most curious student I had ever had. She was so eager to hear about this good news. Even her mother listened with an inquisitive ear. Time was short before her flight had to board.

I asked her is she could read English – she said she was learning. I asked her if she would read an English Bible if I gave her one. I have never seen anyone so excited to have a chance to read the Bible.

As I handed her my pocket size NIV she responded “Really Mister, thank you so much,” all with the biggest smile. I asked her for her name. “Sara”. Then she was gone. I doubt I will ever see her again, but then again maybe I will. Pray for Sara with me and the seeds of God’s kingdom in China.

My flight left 8 hours late, I arrive in Beijing with the sun, and frankly I do not care. The worse day of my life became one of the most amazing experiences of God I have ever had.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Observations from Shanghai

- This is a much more westernized city then I expected. (Though I increasingly think global is a better word than Western to describe what I mean.) There is a Starbucks on every corner here as well. The consumerism might actually be more rampant here than in the US. To illustrate how far from communism China has moved to capitalism: In the downtown part of Shanghai there is a historic marker for where the first 11 communists meet to begin the “revolution”. It was Mao’s house. Today the majority of the property is a mall.

- Shanghai is a huge freakin’ city with lots of people. I mean 20 million people (if you include the constant flow of expats, tourists, and general travelers). Which means it is very crowded and loud. I really appreciate my neighborhood back in St. Francis. 10 years ago all these people where on bikes, but now they are driving cars. If you ever wonder how Volkswagen survives as a company, it is because they scored a deal with the Taxi service in Shanghai, they are all VW’s. There are still plenty of bikes and mopeds. What drives me nuts is that most of the mopeds have squeaky brakes that make you want to scream.

- Very international town. I have found a European style coffee house nearby where I like to sit and read most of the afternoon. There must have been four or five languages being spoken today in this small little shop.

- The greatest experience about this international presence by far has been church. Michelle and I attended Shanghai International Fellowship on Sunday. The church is an old Lutheran German style cathedral and the place was packed. We worshiped with around 350 people from 60 different countries. The closest experience to heaven I have had.

- Also need to dispel the myth about Christians being persecuted here. Maybe it is different in some rural areas, but at church on Sunday the President of the Chinese Council of Churches gave a report about the church in China. She spoke very critically of the “cultural revolution” and also explained all that has occurred since churches were reopened in 1980. She said that there are over 55,000 churches in China today. That is Church buildings. This is still small considering there are 1.5 Billion people living here. The church is censored though, but not persecuted. You might ask what the difference is, and I what say that no one is going to jail for being a Christian, or even for proselytizing. However, like all institutions the Church is under the ever watchful eye of the “party.” All people need to be careful not to speak too critically of the “party.” But even this is ever changing. I would say the church here is in greater danger of the same danger zone of consumerism that Americans are.

- People here are really really rude. I do not how many times I have been cut off, skipped in line, and stared in just over a week. Cars have no regard for traffic laws, I seriously risk my life every time I get in a cab. As our friend Andy says, “In America cars look out for people, in China people look out for cars.” Do not be surprised if at some point my blog entry is a story about me being hit by a car. Just the other day I had to slam on the back of Mercedes that was backing up on the sidewalk and was about to hit me. To illustrate my point: We live right by Haushan Hospital so a lot of ambulances come through the area. In America cars get out of the way. I realize it is the law, but I think they would even if there wasn’t a law. Yesterday I watched an ambulance have to wait at a red light, when all a taxi had to do was move over a few feet and the Ambulance could have passed. When the light turned no cars got out of the way; taxis even cut off the ambulance.

- The food is amazing. Asia just does food well (at least from my experiences in Thailand and now China). Always fresh, always tasty. Ironically the best has been an Indian place called Kaveen’s Kitchen. If you come to Shanghai it is located at the intersection of Yayuan Lu and Hushahn Lu (across from the Hilton.). I recommend the Daal, Chicken Tikka Masala, and the garlic Nan.

- I found a liquor that rivals my love for scotch. Bi jo (sp?) It is even stronger than scotch and has a slightly sweeter taste. Though it will give you a quick buzz so be careful.

- Greatest Irony: In Shanghai the US consulate is right next door to the Iranian consulate.

- Interesting history – Do you know where the verb Shanghaied comes from? Shanghai has a long history as a port town. At the turn of the century it was called the “Paris of the East”. Anyway it also had a reputation as a party town, opium houses, gambling, liquor, and burlesque houses. Sailors would port in Shanghai and not want to leave. So captains began drugging them and dragging them back to the ship and would set sail before they woke. The sailors had to sail, and were thus shanghaied.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Lost In Translation

We had been in the hotel for about a day in Shanghai, and I made a comment to Michelle, “Have you noticed the toilet is running.”

She replied, “You should call them and let them know.”

I knew she was right, but I had my reluctance for some reason…

“Hewo Meester Phwillips, may weee helwp you?”

“Yeah, the toilet is running, could you send someone to fix it.”
Then I realized they did not know what “a running toilet” means. “The toilet is making noise, could you fix it?”

About five minutes there was a knock on the door, and sure enough a member of engineering showed up. He had a plunger in hand, and did not speak a word of English. I guess they figured I meant the toilet was clogged.

Except the strange thing is that he did not even use the plunger on the toilet, he used it on the sink. He started to plunge the sink. Then he began to take apart the drain pipes of the sink. Michelle and I tried to explain that it was the toilet and not the sink which was broken. As we were explaining we were pointing at the toilet, so he looked at us and then he put the toilet seat up and then goes back to working on the sink. Mind you the whole time anyone can hear the toilet is running, no matter what language you speak.

So, Michelle and I left to room to work out. When we came back the man was gone, but the toilet was still running.

The next morning as I am working at my computer in the room (its about 9AM) there is a knock at the door. The same man from the previous evening is at the door, with his plunger. He repeats the same steps from the previous evening. He comes out after about 10 minutes and tries to explain something to me in Chinese. I think he is saying the drain is clogged. Clearly it is working fine, the water goes down. He leaves.

Not more than a few minutes pass when the fellow returns with another man, who is carrying a bigger plunger. Repeat steps (plunge sink, pull apart pipes, wash, etc). At this point I call down to explain they are working on the wrong problem. Reception just wants to make sure they are in the room working, and offers me a new room. I try to explain I am not looking for a new room, but for the toilet to be fixed, and the not the sink which is working fine. They offer to change my room, and I again explain that engineering is working on the wrong problem. Reception transfers me to the assistant manger, repeat same conversation.

At this point, the two “plumbers” have dragged the fire house from the hallway and have it pointed down the drain pipe. I decide to leave.

On my way out of the lobby I stop by the assistant manager hoping they speak English well enough so I can explain what is going on. They seem to understand and escort me back to my room. At this point the manger says something in Chinese to the “plumbers”, and then asks me if I would like a new room. I explain that is not necessary, I just want them to fix the toilet and not the sink. At this point the manger kicks the two men out of the room, and asks me to contact them when it would be convenient to work on the bathroom.

After they leave I pop open the toilet and fix it in two minutes.

Next time I will tell them the sink is broken so that they fix the toliet.

Friday, June 09, 2006

China, Here We Come

So the day has finally arrived. Tomorrow morning at 9:15 Michelle and I are boarding a plane for Chicago. From Chicago we will fly direct to Shanghai. We will spend the rest of June in Shanghai, and then a week in Beijing, and the rest of the summer in Hong Kong. I will head home in August, and then begin my new position as Pastor of Family Ministries as Southbrook Church.

A lot of people I deeply respect have been asking me what I am going to do, and what I expect during the time in China. Truthfully I am not entirely sure what to expect. Michelle will be really busy. Asians work crazy hours. I have very little responsibility while in Asia. My days will be free to sightsee, read, reflect, and well rest. So as far as day to day activities go, I have no real expectations.

However, I do have an expectation for the summer. This is a tremendous opportunity for spiritual formation. I will be out of my comfort zone it just about every way. No home, different food. For the first time in my life I will be a minority. It will be quite an experience. So I have a backpacking guitar on load from Brandon, and a stack of books, which I fear will not be enough to get me through. I also hope to read some on Chinese history and also the all important Chinese cooking.

If you are coming to China or want to, drop us a line. I will have plenty of time to show you around.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

The freedom of letting go.

Have you ever noticed yourself clinging so tightly to one the thing that you are most afraid of losing that you end up killing it. Maybe it’s your dignity, your job, a dream, a relationship, etc. Perhaps even a calling. It is so interesting that when we are so afraid to lose something we hold on so tight, we do lose it.

The cross inverts this fear. Jesus did not consider equality with God something to grasp, though in his very nature He is God (Phil 2). He was even willing to let go of his eternal position, and in the end it was still his. He experiences the freedom of trust in the father, and the resurrection, life itself, is now his. We are offered this same freedom.

Let go, experience the freedom, and fall into God’s arms. It's not easy, but it is freeing.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Grace, Generosity, and Fellowship - reflections from the Spiritual Formation Forum


The other side of brokenness and pain is Grace. The night always turns to morning. The darkness is never permanent, the light shines through. The crucifixion precedes the resurrection, and the message of Christ, is "arise".

My entries have been of a somber note from the weekend, but know that the brokenness and the pain is not all there is. However, it is only in the darkness of our soul that we can understand and know grace. To not enter the darkness is to cheapen grace and the work of the cross.

But grace oh sweet grace. To know that after we have embraced our sinfulness, we can hear the words “you’re forgiven.” To hear from the eternal father, “I love you”, to hear from the creator of our souls, “you are my child, arise and be alive, go and sin no longer.” This is not only a command to not sin, but to know that we are no longer regarded as sinners. We are to embrace this new standing of God, and live without sin. If we do not mourn our sin, we will never turn from it. Hence we cheapen grace. And why cheapen something so beautiful and so powerful.

The message of grace is not only, be saved from the pits of hell, but the message of life. We settle for so little, we reduce our faith to propositional statements and warm fuzzies, when what God is offering the world in the cross and the resurrection is life, and life to the fullest. This is not a fullness of health and wealth, of self-fulfillment, but the fullness of peace in our souls, in our world, and mostly peace with God.

Life is only found in God. Can you imagine what it is like to have faith in God so that we are free from our insecurities, from our pettiness, even from our sins? This is what we are offered. If we are willing to let go of holding onto ourselves, then we can embrace God, then Jesus becomes our life, and that is life to the fullest.

So, let me ask. Why are you running? Why are you clinging to your life? He offers us so much, and we settle for so little. Grace tells us that is will be ok. Grace gives meaning to our existence, to our joys, and even to our suffering. Pain is redemptive with grace.

Why are you running? Stop holding on, stop clinging, and surrender to God. Acknowledge your brokenness, and embrace the grace. Acknowledge the darkness, and trust that the light is coming.


I have never experience so much generosity in my life. My friends provided a hotel room for me. My father provided a flight. The only time I paid for a meal this past week was when I was by myself (which was rare). I cannot believe all of your generosity and your kindness to me. Thank you for showing me the love of God.


Every group I spoke with this week opened there arms wide to me. This includes my peeps from Milwaukee, people from Trinity, and my new friends from Indiana. Thank you for your genuine concern for my well-being. Thank you for showing me love and grace. Thank you for your on-going prayers. The best part of these conferences tend to be the conversations you have in free time. Once I again I have found this to be true. Thank you to all for embracing me as a brother in the family of God.

Friday, May 19, 2006

brokenness - pain

Brokenness – This weekend has really challenged me in the areas of my life that I do not enjoy entering into, but that I need to enter into. It is really hard to quite our lives, it is hard for me to quite myself, to be attentive to God. When I approach God in prayer, by which I mean experience his holiness, it does produce a feeling of woe is me. I am aware of the sin in my life, that I have not right to approach God. To share in Paul’s words from Romans 7, I do what I do not want to do, and I don’t do what I do want to do. The nature of sin, it’s treacherous, it’s vile, and it’s destructive. So, most days I choose to ignore it. When I choose to ignore it, I miss the heart of God. We are all people desiring more, but why do we refuse to allow ourselves to be broken before God, so that he might give us life, and give it to the fullest.

Pain – If I had to sum up the forum in one word it would be pain. I am aware of the pain in my own life, my struggle with insecurity, a fear of abandonment, and also general self-assessment of inadequacy. Yet this leads to brokenness.

I feel the pain in my family, and I hope and I pray that they might experience the grace and the hope that comes from God the father.

The hardest thing for me when I move to practicing the presence of God in my life is the pain I sense all around me. I have come close to nervous breakdowns walking into crowds of people, because I sense their inner turmoil. As some have shared their stories with me this week, I found myself fighting tears. I can sense God’s love for the world, so much so that it pains him to see the mess that we are all in. Will we move into the hard path of brokenness, which yields repentance, which brings grace, which gives life.

C.S. Lewis, said that pain is God’s megaphone to the world. If you are experiencing pain, be it physical, emotional, or spiritual – turn to God. The cross is evidence that one He cares, and two that pain serves a purpose, a redemptive purpose in our lives. Pain can put us in touch with God. He mourns with you, he cares for you.

“The Christian life is not one of ascent in knowledge, but descent into death, but this death brings life” – Dave Johnson

“Anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it”. – Matt 10:38-39

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Facing the Mess

Half a day at the spiritual formation forum and God has already begun to dig deep into the mess that is my soul. Sitting in the sessions today I began to get that old nagging feeling I often have in class, well that I have in almost every possible social setting. It is that desire to impress the others around me. It is that desire to contribute so profoundly to the dialogue that I present myself as somehow being acceptable among them, if not even slightly above them. So, I am left with dilemma that we are all faced with daily, minute by minute: do I face my inner struggle or do I ignore it?

Our main session dealt with the heart of this very issue. Our intentions, our motives are rarely if ever pure, and we should not be content with that. The heart of spiritual formation is engaging this battle, the battle within us between spirit and flesh. Christianity then is more than having orthodox beliefs, and more than Christ-like behavior. Christianity is about entering into the dynamic father-son-spirit relationship and being transformed into the wholeness of the image of Christ.

This is where we fail, where I fail. We refuse to enter into the mess of our own souls, the mess of being a family, of being a community, and we can never experience the brokenness before God. If we cannot be broken before God, then we cannot truly be repentant, and then we are never truly transformed into his image.

Engage the battle. Will you, will I engage the battle that rages within us at the deepest levels. Engage our fears, our insecurities, and our deepest darkest desires that threaten our very wholeness. In God, there is not to be any of these. God is wholly other-centered, but we are always self-centered (to some degree). These are the two realities: God’s other centeredness, our self-centeredness – that is the root of sin. The incarnation then is the in-breaking of God’s reality into our own, not to condemn our reality, but restore it, redeem it, and make it whole again. This is our job as a church: to proclaim these two realities, and tell over and over again the story of the in-breaking - to live embracing our brokenness and accepting God’s mercy.

Will you join me in this journey? Will you no longer avoid the mess in your life, and the mess in mine, and the mess in others, lest we reduce our spirituality to emotional feel good consumerism? Will you embrace the brokenness, and wait then on the Spirit of God to shape and model you into the image of Christ? Will you trust God in a radical way you have never before?

“That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” - 2 Cor. 12:10

Tuesday, May 16, 2006


What would we do without our imagination? As I was praying the other day, I was reflecting on God, and how I picture him, and it dawned on me that it would be impossible for me to even comprehend God without my imagination. I would be dependent upon only that which I could take in with my senses, I would only have ‘reason’ one might say.

I can hear the voice of the atheist already, see God is only a figment of our imaginations. To some degree God is a member of our imagination. It is in my imagination that I can picture, him, that I can even begin to comprehend him, but let us not mistake that for being only a product of our imagination. Rather it is our imagination that informs us.

What would we do without imagination? We would be trapped within our senses. Our reality could only be defined by that which we see and hear. There would be no hope without imagination. No one would even be able to dream of a better tomorrow. No one could hope for a better world, a better life. What would we do without imagination?

This is why I think it is vital we encourage imagination in ourselves, and even more in our children. Encourage them in their creative work, and in their “overworked” imagination. The imagination is such an important part of the image of God we have been endowed with. Look around creation and see the imprint of God’s creative work. We too have been charged with the enterprise of creativity, and developing God’s creation into what we call culture. And now the church too has been asked to declare to a dying world, a better world. Imagine the hope we have in the Kingdom of God. Imagine a world where justice is truly the rule of law, where peace rules within us and between us, where mercy abounds, and where love has now end. Imagine a world where people dwell in the face of God.

What would we do without imagination?

I’m off to the Spiritual Formation Forum. If you are in LA, shoot me an e-mail.

I am really excited to sit down and dialogue about how we as churches can better foster an environment for forming our spirits. Please pray for us this week. I hear there are over 900 participants this year.

Honestly, these conferences can drive me crazy with all the one-up-menship, but I have hope that his will be one about connecting, and building the body of Christ. I have some great roommates to hang out with this week. Please keep us all in your prayers. I am sure I will have some posts in reference to the conference.

Monday, April 17, 2006

ASIA...saying good-bye - but not for too long

Today finally arrived. At 9:30 this morning I placed my wife, Michelle, on a plane that would start a journey ending in Shanghai, China. She took a jumper flight from Milwaukee to O’Hare, and then at 16 hour flight from O’Hare to Shanghai. This is the start of a 6 -7 month assignment in the Asia/Pacific region with her company.

Michelle has been traveling a lot lately, so I have gotten quite used to dropping her off at the airport, but normally I pick her up again in a few days. It is never more than a week (and that is rare). But this will be 6 weeks until we see each other again. I cannot even begin to explain how strange this feels. I am alone in bed tonight, I will be eating more by myself, and the house is eerily quiet. Marriage brings two people so close, so intimate, and for that to just fly away is quite bizarre, surreal even.

The parting at the airport seemed like I was living a movie, even more like I was viewing a movie. It was emotional, but did not feel like it was really happening. Life’s most dramatic moves occur in the simplest and smallest of maneuvers. We hugged and kissed, embraced each other, and then again; the whole time fighting off the tears. I just wanted to walk away at that point, while Michelle walked through the security check, but I couldn’t leave. I watched her as long as I could until she walked beyond my eyesight. I finally made the hard turn to begin exiting the terminal, and then the tears came. I took a few deep breaths, and pressed on in life; reminding myself, “it is really more like five weeks”.

While the distance may be hard, I am really excited for her. Michelle dreams of traveling, and this will bring travel. While she will be living in Shanghai, she will be traveling all over the region: Tokyo, Seoul, New Delhi, Bangkok, Sydney, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Auckland. What husband would not let his wife take such a trip? She is helping the Asia/Pacific market get up to speed on their marketing strategy and implementation. So, this is also a great career move. If you want to keep up with her adventure, she will be keeping a blog, I am sure she would love it if you dropped a comments from time to time.

Michelle will be back in the states at the end of May for a wedding, and then a conference in Chicago, and then back to China. I will be living in Shanghai with her from mid June to mid August, so we will not be separate the whole 6 months. Michelle will come home mid the end of October.

We are excited about the work God will do through this, both within us and our marriage, as well as the ministry we will have as individuals during this time. Please pray for us, this will obviously be stressful on our marriage, but also a great time for growth. We know there is a lot to be learned. We’ve been praying that distance truly makes the heart grow fonder, that we would find time for ministry we would not have being together; strengthening of our marriage, and a deeper appreciation for our yearning for Christ and being fully united to Him.

Thanks for the support from all of you, we would appreciate the prayers.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Spiritual Formation Forum May 17-20

I am really excited to announce I will be attending the Spiritual Formation Forum in CA this May.

The forum seeks to bring together a great collection of pastors, scholars, theologians, and most importantly, practitioners of Spiritual formation to gather and discuss the church’s role in spiritual formation. Some of the people who have ministered to me the most will be there. Even Dave Johnson and the Open Door worship team will be there this year; I used to attend Church of the Open Door when I lived in Minneapolis. This is an awesome oppourtuinty and I wanted to promote it on my blog. Check it out!

If you are a student like me, you can even get 3 hours of credit from Trinity.

I hope some of you can make it.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

In response to Aaron's comment

Sorry to all, especially Aaron. Where am I you might ask?

Well Michelle leaves for Asia in two weeks (was supposed to leave today originally), it is a 6 month stint.

I am taking advanced Greek Exegesis. All I have done for the last two days, is attend a conference on pain management to the dying, and tranlate Greek, lots of Greek.

Sorry about the lack of posts. Just swamped trying to graduate, find a job, send my wife to Asia, and stay healthy.

More to come soon - I promise

Friday, March 03, 2006


This past week the Sunday school class I attend at church got slightly sidetracked discussing the issue of God’s judgment in natural disasters particularly the events of the past year regarding the Asian tsunami and the hurricanes the ravaged New Orleans. I was somewhat out of it I admit, but did follow the discussion. At one level the class discussed that all of nature’s chaos was evident of God’s judgment on creation because of our sin – true. At another level the discussion focused on, was it God’s direct judgment on the people of New Orleans. The class admitted that none of us were in a place to know…

As we drove home Michelle articulated what bothered her greatly about this discussion, and I think it is an all too important point – where is the compassion? The question is not about whether we know God’s judgment, but how will we the people of God respond?

As Christians we too quickly become anxious to see God’s judgment on wicked people, but do we ever take time to remember that we too are wicked people. Why do we quickly think because righteousness is given to us with the cross, that we suddenly have the ability, nay, the right to judge what is good and evil in this world. Is this not the beginning of the problem.

Let us just admit that the horrible tragedies of the world happen because we are sinful people. Let me reiterate, WE ARE sinful people, even his church, even the redeemed are that the race that fell, but then was redeemed. All of us are responsible. This is not merit for us to judge – that is the glory reserved for Christ. It is merit for us display the infinite riches of the shame, the suffering of the cross.

This is relevance my brothers and sister. If we want to contextualize the gospel, if we want it to be alive and relevant to a culture to the world, then we need to walk in suffering, and bear the sins of our culture. This means we do not point fingers, but we weep, we mourn, we suffer, and we labor for our neighbors. That is how we make the church relevant. The church is good at displaying God’s justice, but we need and we are called to give the mercy that was given to us.

Join me in praying for God’s mercy.

Friday, February 10, 2006


Many of you I am sure have kept up with the news this past week and the recent developments in the escalating clash of worldviews occurring between the West and Islam. I have had some helpful conversations on this issue and some very discouraging ones as well.

Essentially, this is a clash of two worldviews at the most fundamental levels of their value structures. In the west, liberty (freedom of speech) is the most valued possession, and something I beleive will still they would go to war over. In Islam it is honor, particularly the honor of Allah and the prophet - tihs is what they live and die for. Both sides are evaluating the issue from their own value structures. No one will win here. They both want their values to be adopted and accepted by the other side, but this is impossible. This is of course a complex situation rooted deep in history, but is either side ‘right’ here? This may seem like moral ambiguity, but I think there is an another way, a better way.

So what is the Christian do here, what is the church’s response? I have been bothered by the immediate weight American Christians simply put in the Western worldview. Is there a higher value here then liberty or honor that we need to adorn in this growing season of turbulence? As Christians our national allegiance is to the Kingdom of God (I am curious to know how Iranian Christians view this situation). In no way do I condone the rioting and the burning of embassies, but neither do I condone the blatant disrespect from the West.

I have some thoughts on how the church should respond here, but I am curious to know what others are thinking. Maybe I am wrong, maybe the church should choose a side, maybe someone is right. How ought we to live here, we must we say - because I know we should not remain silent?

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

remodeling, mothers, thoughts, and a fretless bass

It has been a long time since my last post, long long time. If any of you were wondering I am not dead, just been quite busy.

Since my last post, we basically finished up our house projects, a little paint and some hemmed drapes and I think we will be done for a little while, the place looks really nice though.

Michelle’s mother moved in with us in the process, and was a huge help to getting the house done for the holidays. Time has also caught up to me, and Michelle presented me with a certificate to have a fretless bass built according to my own specifications for my 25th b-day. Devon Smullen previously built me a bass, which many of you know is sacred in my life. Isabel’s (that’s my bass’s name) sister should be complete early fall. (The picutre to the right is just a picture I found of a koa bass, mine will be even cooler)

She will be quite beautiful: a swamp ash body for a nice warm and full sound, with a koa top for a truly beautiful look. A 5 piece neck through (koa and maple) with an ebony finger board. Twin batrolini music man pickups, ABM individual string bridges, and hipshot tuners.

You have no idea how touched I was, and Michelle has been working on this for years, and was in tears as she presented a piece of koa wood to me.

So that this big news on my part, anyone want to start a band?

I have been working through a lot of thoughts, particularly on inerrency and more thoughts on the nature of salvation. I will be posting soon.