Sunday, December 10, 2006

Surviving Christmas

I am in Florida right now. I was at a shopping center last night for supper and the one word that came to my mind was "frenetic". Why do we always turn God's will upside down? When he wants us to learn to wait for his presence as Christmas approaches, we increase our activity and shove him to the background.

I was just reviewing some of my blogs from last year...good stuff if I may say so myself! I took the book "Watch for the Light" - readings for Advent and Christmas and shared a brief devotional every day. If you go to the "archives" in the right sidebar and go to December (12) of 2005 you'll find them.

Also, for some spiritual direction during this season you might want to read my sermon series called "How to Survive & Celebrate Christmas".

I'm not posting much to this blog right now because I'm busy posting to another blog...Healing the Hurts of Your Past. This overviews my book by that name, little by little each day. If you know someone who needs some emotional healing you might want to let them know about it.

Monday, November 27, 2006

The Most Important Work of the Church

Occassionally I'll talk about something that I think is an essential part of what it means to be a God follower. Yesterday was one of them when I continued my series on the Sermon on the Mount and talked about "Blessed Are the Peacemakers". Here's just a snip from that talk. You can download the entire sermon at our website.

I want you to see something here in the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus gave us seven characteristics of his church community. Jews were very conscious about the significance of numbers. The number seven is God’s number and the number for perfection. So, when Jesus gave us seven characteristics he was saying that these qualities should be central to the life of the church. And the seventh of the seven characteristics is the most important one.

Jesus is telling us THE MOST IMPORTANT THING about being a church isn’t the number of people converted, isn’t whether people speak in tongues or not, isn’t how we vote in the elections. It’s none of that. The most important thing is that we pursue peace in all our relationships. So whether it’s in our church or in our families or at work or wherever we go - God is calling us to make peace.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

So Much to Be Thankful for...

A few weeks ago we held our "Fresh Encounter" meeting. This is a low key time of singing, prayer and reflection at Cedarbrook - very counter to our high energy, music and message time on Sunday morning.

Anyway...the theme of the evening was thanksgiving. The leader (Jayne) was praying and thanking God for all that he had done at Cedarbrook this past year. It was a long list! I'll mention just a few things here...
  • The four teams that we sent to New Orleans to help Katrina victims
  • The start of a number of new small groups and the relationships they have spawned
  • The addition of Brenda Brewer as our Team Leader for the Children's Ministry
  • The resurrection of a number of marriages that were on the verge of divorce
  • The successful transition to our new space at the mall
  • The incredible amount of volunteers that have stepped up to serve as we've grown
  • Brad Kehn stepping up to serve as interim youth pastor when our search failed to find someone
  • The faithful giving of so many people that enables us to hire staff and equip the church to minister to so many people
  • The numerous changes lives that have resulted from people connecting with God

Well, you get the idea. If you'd like to add to the list please comment by clicking the link below. And join us tomorrow night as we have a Soup & Sharing time on Thanksgiving Eve.

Monday, November 13, 2006

How to Restore the Fallen

I'm passing on my points from my message yesterday. It seemed to hit a chord in people so I thought I'd share them. For the whole message you can click here to download "Blessings in Disguise: Mercy". (Available to download after noon CST on 11/13/06.)

How to Restore the Fallen:
  1. Be gentle (meek). Meekness doesn't criticize, judge or force its way.
  2. Think the best of the person. No one likes to be reduced to their worst mistake. Let them know that their sin is only part of the mix of who they are and that you believe the better parts will come through.
  3. Don't excuse sin. Jesus released the woman caught in adultery from judgment but he told her to "go and sin no more". You can show mercy and still hold people accountable.
  4. Bind and loose scripture. This means that we apply scripture on a case by case basis and not across the board in a harsh way. Jesus did this with the woman mentioned above.
  5. Offer what's needed to heal. Be constructive. Think restoration not punishment.
  6. Explain what's necessary to rebuild trust. Trust is built by proving yourself to be faithul...over time.
  7. Reinstate if possible. Once trust has been reestablished, it's time to restore. Don't keep people in limbo out of your own fear. That's your issue, not theirs.
This message was specifically on mercy and a part of a series on the Beatitudes. I believe that Jesus meant the church to be a healing community, not the moral police. The Haggard fiasco is a great opportunity to find those among us hiding in the shadows with sin and offer them a safe place to be restored.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Can Haggard Be Restored?

Twenty years ago I was a part of a church where our pastor was exposed in adulterous affairs (yes, plural). The church went through an incredible fallout. The rancor was something else. The degree of anger and hatred toward the pastor was intense. You see, he was so revered in the church - really put on a pedastal - that it shook people's faith.

Just this year this man came back into ministry to start a new church. Get this, twenty years later people still are mad...still don't want him in ministry. Who are the sinners now?

I'm confident that Ted Haggard will be restored. Hey folks, that's what church is all about! I think his deception was terrible. He let a lot of people down. His hypocrisy was off the charts. But that's what happens when we don't deal with our sin. We hide it and hide it until it takes us down. If we have any concept of God, we deal with it, find God's forgiveness, set things straight, win back peoples trust, ask forgiveness, prove ourselves and get back in the saddle. That's called restoration. That's called mercy and grace. I think the Bible talks about that some place.

Sure, there are insincere, evil people. There are people who have no intention of changing. My sense is that Ted Haggard isn't one of these guys. I think he has a heart for God.

Haggard needs to be held accountable for what he's done...not excused. But he shouldn't be pushed aside. From what I've heard, his family and church are handling this with a lot of maturity. We can all be better people as a result of this if we follow the Spirit's leading.

God's no dummy. This won't mar his image. People will see things about God they would have never seen if this hadn't happened. These are the moments the church can shine and reveal God's power and grace. God specializes in turn around projects. (i.e. resurrection!)

I'm not worried about Haggard. I'm more worried about how people respond to Haggard.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Thoughts on Ted Haggard

Ugggh! Another one bites the dust!

I just saw Ted Haggard at a meeting in Mpls. a few weeks ago. Pretty impressive guy. In fact, so impressive that he made me glad I'm in little 'ol Menomonie. He seemed to have so much going for him...and so busy...that I thought to myself, "I could never do what he does. I'm not built like that." Turns out that he wasn't built that way either. He probably increasingly put on a good front while he was wasting away on the inside.

Even in my little world of leadership, I can see how it can happen. Life gets overwhelming, so you look for ways of escape. I'm able to delegate, exercise and take vacations! So far, that's worked! But I can see how you get busy, you feel responsible, you don't want to let people down, more and more is asked of you, you don't want to complain or so "no" but, at the same time, you need a break. A lot of people find that "break" in illicit sexual relationships and pornography. Interesting that that's where so many turn. Maybe it's the immediacy, intensity and even the intimacy of sex that draws us there first. Life as a leader can be lonely.

Fallen leaders entail so many issues. There's the hypocrisy, the addiction, the marital infidelity, the pastoral infidelity plus, how do you restore someone like that? Or, should you?

There are so many emotions involved; anger, sadness, resentment, etc. The closer you are to the fallout the more you have to carefully sort through it all. Act too rashly and you will add only more gas to the raging fire.

I've been around other leaders who have fallen. It's made me extra cautious in my own ministry to never go down that road. I was glad to see Haggard come clean and stop the denying foolishness. That's insulting. If he continues to deal with his stuff, I hope he returns to ministry a better man. In the mean time, I pray for his wife and kids, his church and those who will try to use this against the message of Jesus.

We need to guard our hearts. This could happen to any of us. If you don't think so, your fall is closer than you think. There is no shame in this for the church if Haggard and we all handle it well. We've all got hidden parts. The question is, what are we doing about it and how are we handling it when others come clean?

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Shame: Healing the Hurts of Your Past

In my last church I had a lot of time to counsel. I would sometimes see as many as four people a day and God used me in significant ways to help others find the freedom they were looking for. But as a lead pastor I don't have the same kind of time to spend with people one on one. That's disappointing to me because I like counseling.

But I now have a resource that can help a lot of people even though I may not be able to spend the same amount of time counseling. I just finished writing and recording "Healing the Hurts of Your Past" - a guide to overcoming the pain of shame. I've taught this for over eight years at Arbor Place Treatment Center as well as other churches. It's a thorough teaching bringing together the two worlds of psychology and theology to help people get to the root of their emotional pain. It shows you where the pain comes from, how it creates dysfunctional habits and then gives you a process for emotional healing to follow.

I've gotten excellent response to it, both from people in emotional pain as well as trained counselors. (You can read some recommendations on my website). I mention it to you here as something you might benefit from or might want to refer your friends to. To learn more about it and my other seminar on anger, you can go to my personal website at LifeChange Seminars. If you have a place to post a link to this site, I'd appreciate it.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Confessions of a Pastor

I spoke yesterday in church about Jesus' words, "Blessed are those who Mourn". We learned that to mourn is to express on the outside what's going on inside of you. It speaks of being honest and authentic. It speaks of confessing your sins and your struggles. Jesus was laying out a foundational aspect to his kingdom community. They aren't Posers...people who are faking strength and confidence when inside they are dying. Kingdom people aren't afraid to expose their emptiness and in doing so qualify themselves to be filled by God. Having said that all yesterday, I read the following excerpt from a book this morning from a new book called "Confessions of a Pastor", by Craig Groeschel. It's a great example of mourning...

"One Sunday, after another week of performing my best for God, I stood to preach His life-changing Word. As I approached the pulpit, the truth hit me squarely between the eyes. I hadn’t prayed at all. Not that day. Not the day before. Not the day before that. To the best of my knowledge, I hadn’t prayed all week.

And I called myself a pastor. That’s when it dawned on me: I had become a full-time minister and a part-time follower of Christ. From the outside, I looked the part. “God bless you,” I’d say, followed by the promise, “I’ll be praying for you.”

But that was usually a lie.

Stepping onto the platform to preach that morning, I admitted to myself that I was not a pastor first, but a regular, scared, insecure, everyday guy whose life had been changed by Jesus. And if Jesus really loved me as I was (I knew He did), then why should I go on trying to be someone I wasn’t? I stumbled through that sermon, forcing the words to come out. The message was superficial, plastic, shallow…but somehow I got through it. I drove home that day ashamed of the role I’d played so skillfully, but feeling cautiously hopeful I might learn to be myself.

All week long I agonized. I prayed as I hadn’t prayed in months: God, what if I tell them who I really am? What if they know I’m terrified? What if they reject me? Talk bad about me? Fire me? I swallowed hard. Then I ventured a step further: Is this what You want me to do? I thought I sensed God’s assurance, but I wasn’t sure. Desperately I hoped it was Him leading me,
and not just my own whacked-out thoughts.

The next Sunday arrived, and I walked to the platform uncharacteristically unprepared—not one written note. The only preparation was in my heart. My throat dry, nervous beyond description, I stared at two hundred very committed churchgoers. They stared politely back.


Finally I spoke. “My relationship with God is not what it should be.” My voice quavered with each syllable. No one moved. I plunged ahead. “I’ve confessed to God, but now I’m going to confess to you: I’ve become a full-time minister but a part-time follower of Christ.”

You could have heard a communion wafer snap.

I continued speaking, opening my heart and inviting everyone inside. The message that Sunday was unembellished: no humor, no quotes, no poems. It was void of clever sayings or points starting with the same letter. But the message was true. I held nothing back. It was the biggest public risk I’d ever taken. It was also my first authentic sermon. I had preached many times before, but this was the first time the real me made a showing. In the middle of my talk, something started to happen,
something new…

God made Himself known.

The reality of His presence is hard to describe, but it’s even harder to miss. Some people cried quietly in their seats. Others sobbed openly—not so much for my sins, but for their own. Before I had finished my confession, many gathered at the altar to repent along with me.

As the tears and words flowed, God’s peace replaced my fear. His assurance pushed away my doubts. Christ’s power invaded my weakness. In that moment, Jesus became as real to me as He had ever been. The Savior was with me…and I believed He was pleased. “Well done,” I felt, more than heard.

That’s when it all changed. I became a full-time follower of Christ who happened to be a pastor. No more make-believe. No posing. And no playing games. From that moment on, I would be who I am.

Or nothing at all.

- - - - -

I appreciate Craig's honesty. I think every person, and pastor, can relate to his emptiness at times and phoniness. We try to "fake it until we make it" but we often never "make it"! To learn more about mourning as well as becoming a safe person for mourners, you can read my message here.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Small Groups at Cedarbrook

I'm really pleased with the response that we've gotten to our small group launch this fall. Some of you know that we took a year to prepare for this. Rather than push for quanity right away, we chose quality. We chose to spend a year training leaders so that our small groups would have the right DNA. Now we have launched about 15 or so groups of all flavors; women's groups, divorce groups, neighborhood groups...meeting every night of the week.

Lisa and I started one ourselves. I have a dream of every city dweller at Cedarbrook to be involved in a small group within walking distance of their house. We started the first one here in North Menomonie. It's great. Half married couples, half singles. All ages. All kinds of church or unchurched backgrounds. People who know the Bible well and people who just bought one for our group. It's very layed back...but intentional...we have a purpose and a study that we are doing.

There's so much potential in people coming together...sharing their strengths and weaknesses. I'm excited to see where not only our group goes but how the community at Cedarbrook grows through small groups developing. If you aren't involved I hope you'll check one out soon. rd

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Time to Move In!

Well, you can tell by my absence that I've been a little busy the last two weeks. After four weeks of sheetrock dust, painting, contractors and hanging doors, Cedarbrook Church is now moving into our home (even as I write). Right now the children's ministry is setting up shop while carpet is still being laid and the floors are being stripped and waxed. The plasma TV is being installed in our lobby and the move crew and band are trying to figure out how to make church work in a banquet center..

Though exhausting, this renovation has gone surprisingly well...all in four weeks. We've now doubled our seating capacity and provided our children with a beautiful new home. I guess I better get to work on that sermon for tomorrow!

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Celebrating the Past

I've asked people to share their experiences at Cedarbrook. I hope you'll add yours. Here's one for you...

I just want you to know that Cedarbrook Church, as a whole, has ministered
to my heart in so many ways. Though DivorceCare I have made wonderful
friends ... along with the gift of being able to give back some of what God
and Godly people have done for me. Through your seminar and meeting
withJayne in TPM, I have had tremendous healing from wounds of the past.
Through worship and sermons on Sunday morning, I have grown in my
relationship with God. Through helping out in children's ministries I am able
to see the excitement and innocence of the children and their ability to
trust and believe so easily that it inspires me to be more like them. Through
the leadership conference, I gained insight and a much better understanding
of our Cedarbrook roots. And now I have begun the Breaking Free women's
group with Jayne and I already am feeling a bond with the women there.
Cedarbrook is such a welcoming church with such a focus on getting people
emotionally healthy. Though I loved my church in Nevada where I had been
a member for about 9 years,I feel much more a part of Cedarbrook.
Cedarbrook is my church and I love it here.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Preparing to Change

I shared twelve tips to prepare for change on Sunday. You can download the whole message but here are the "tips" to keep in mind...
  1. Spy out the land. Get used to the change by exploring it in advance.
  2. Celebrate the past. Make sure you bring good closure to what was.
  3. Move on from the past. Celebrate the past but don't get stuck there.
  4. Start strong. Weak starts lead to weak (or no) finish.
  5. Celebrate small victories. If you wait, you may never celebrate at all!
  6. Communicate, communicate, communicate. The good, the bad and the ugly.
  7. Remember the vision because vision leaks. Keep the big picture in mind.
  8. Change together. Change goes better with friends.
  9. Don't quit, innovate. Use your frustration to resolve problems, not run from them.
  10. Include others along the way. Change is a great time for others to join.
  11. Enjoy the change. Different is only bad if you make it bad. Choose to enjoy it.
  12. Stay flexible because cheese moves!
In order to "Celebrate the Past" I asked people to send me their comments about how God has touched them at Cedarbrook. Here's the first email back...

I started going to Cedarbrook in the theatre on mother's day a year ago, and this church and it's atmosphere overall helped me come to Christ. The people were so nice and caring that I couldn't leave there. But then I would love to see more people experience the love and compassion of God and Cedarbrook. So since God has moved our cheese we still follow wherever he moves it from here to eternity.
The mall will bring so many oppotunities to expand the church. We'll have the experience of shoppers watching the t.v.s and maybe joing us in the actual service. It's exciting to me because it's a chance to change lives forever!!!

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Prime Coat is on

We spent the week mudding and sanding the walls. Whew! That's a lot of work. Now the easy part...painting.

The prime coat is on and I saw the first color hit the walls as I left today. Starting Monday we will be in painting and clean up mode to get ready for the carpet.

If you know anyone who would be willing to donate their installation labor let us know! We've gotten hundreds of hours of labor donated so far. It would be great to save the installation cost as well.

People have donated doors and lumber, trim. Fantastic!

New moved date: October 15th. We still need to get up to code with fire alarms and sprinklers, plus new duct work has to go in since we will have high volumes of people in there.

Have you stopped by yet? Have a look and see how you might chip in!

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Painters, Laborers Still Wanted!

The walls are up but now the finer details kick in.

We need people to finish sanding and mudding yet today and then tonight we hope to start priming the walls. Can you help? We need equipment too if you've got it.

We'll be rolling the walls so we need people to tape, roll and trim with a brush.

It looks like we can get a good price on carpet...around $5/yard. If you have connections to beat that or for installation, please let us know.

We also got a lot of free trim. And now we are hoping for cabinets to be donated for each children's room.

The back room needs lots of mudding work...we left that for now but if you are available to work at those walls, that would be great.

Please stop in and see what's going on. You might be able to help or note what you have that's needed. It's fun seeing so many people contributing in so many ways! Thanks.

As for a move in WON'T be October 1. We've put it off until at least October 8.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Still Lots to Do!

The work continues! I just got back from mudding the walls. It's amazing how the work slows as you get to the details. So, if you know how to finish sheetrock, head on down to the mall. The joints need sanding and second/third coats. Thanks.

With all the man/woman hours being donated, we are saving thousands of dollars. And with financial gifts, we will be able to add those special touches. Someone handed me their "birthday money" today to help finish off our space. It's the cumulation of those kinds of sacrifices that make a work like this so special.

I'm having trouble uploading pictures. I'll keep trying!

Friday, September 15, 2006

The Walls Are Up!

This is Dave last Thursday giving everyone the details on the work. Today, all the walls are up and the electrical is in. Amazing!

Corey is on the right. He worked all last night...says he only needs two hours of sleep and he's good to go. He hit a vein with some steel and sprayed blood all over the floor...took a trip to the ER but he's okay.

Tomorrow the sheetrock goes up. We are going to let people print the name of a friend they'd like to come to Christ on the sheetrock this Sunday. We'll bring on twelve foot sheet to church. Come with names!

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Plans Approved...we have lift off!

11:14 a.m. Dave Johnson just called and the state approved our plans and we are good to go. Dave and Corey Amundson laid out the walls last night and tonight (7:00ish) the framing team and hospitality teams will be showing up for phase one.

Please pray for two things:
  • that we can get into the space by October 1 or at least close. A delayed possession could cause us to lose momentum and I like momentum!!
  • that funds will come in to make this renovation a "knock your socks off experience" when you visit Cedarbrook. We have budgeted for the basics, but I'd love to carpet this space and have a big children's jungle gym or something awesome when kids first walk in the space. If you have a heart to contribute to this I appreciate it greatly. You can send checks to Cedarbrook Church at N6714 470th Ave., Menomonie, WI 54751.
I'll be updating you with pictures over the next week. Thanks for checking in. Please stop by. And if you want to work, just show up. We'll find something for you to do!

Monday, September 11, 2006

Makeover Starts This Week!

Dave Johnson, project manager for our new Mall Makeover, has been busy, busy, busy pulling together bids, volunteers and city/state approval for this operation. It's a LOT of work!!

Wednesday: The state is scheduled to review and hopefully approve our building plans.

Thursday: We hope to receive the approval FEDEX'd to us so the city can grant us a building permit.

Thursday or Friday: We hope to start construction!

Dave met with over 40 people last Thursday who are eager to get to work. We have teams and team leaders for...
  • framing (with steel) (Corey Amundson)
  • hanging sheetrock (Brian Hartz)
  • taping/sanding sheetrock (maybe you? Dave)
  • painting and decorating (Michell Scott)
  • promotions (Remy)
  • hospitality (Judy Abel)
If you want to get involved, contact Dave at

I hope you'll at least drop by to see what's happening! Stay tuned, I hope to add some "action" pictures as the walls go up.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Extreme Cedarbrook Makeover - Mall Addition

You may have noticed that my blog had a conversion experience recently. It went from "Thinking Outloud...about Faith" to "Thinking Outloud...about Cedarbrook". Up until now, it's been a discussion of faith and church issues. But, at least for the next six months, it will be specifically Cedarbrook related.

Moving to the mall will be a big change for us and I want to have a "communication center" where people can go to get updates and send me feedback. Change is hard but setting up a good flow of communication will smooth the bumps. The quicker we can deal with problems the better. I've found that most problems can be eliminated or at least reduced if we address them as quickly as possible before they become a big irritation. So, help us all out and give me your feedback along the way!

I'm pleased to announce that we've hired Dave Johnson to be our project manager for the mall remodeling project. Dave immediately got a brainstorm that will make it extra fun. He's calling it the Extreme Cedarbrook Makeover - Mall Addition! Dave is not only a former building contractor but he has spent years equipping short term mission teams to serve over seas. This project should be piece of cake!

You can learn more at Dave's blog. I'm sure he'll be updating everyone soon on details for the makeover. If you would like to offer your volunteer services, his email is on the blog.

Keep coming back for up to the date information on the move!

Monday, August 21, 2006

Answers About Moving to the Mall

I'm back! This has been the fastest summer of my life! I spent a great deal of time getting work done to prepare our church for the fall, squeezed in some writing, some vacation and a lot of time watering my garden!

This post is going to be Cedarbrook specific. So those of you that like to check in from out of town might find this entry totally irrelevant. Cedarbrook is moving from renting a movie theatre to leasing space in the local mall. I want to address a number of questions about that move. So here we go...

1. Why are we moving?
  • The biggest reason is to make more seats available. During the school year, we are often at capacity (200) and it's not very welcoming to come into a church that is full. The message is "We are happy the way we are. We don't need any more people." Since that is not true, we needed to find some place bigger. The malls banquet center can seat 400 comfortably, even more if necessary. That means we could grow as big as 1000 with two services on Sunday, more than double what we can do at the theatre.
  • The second reason is better children's facilities. We've been using the theatre hallway for our nursery from day one. It's adequate, but in the winter it's cold. Many people have chosen to not attend CB for this reason alone. At the mall, we will have a very large space that will be built with kids in mind. Parents will love it.
  • The mall also gives us more options. Right now our youth groups are renting two different facilities in town. We'll have enough room to house them in the mall if that's what the new youth pastor wants. Plus, we have the banquet center reserved for not only Sundays but holidays (Thanksgiving Eve, Good Friday, etc.). Up until now, we've always been limited to Sunday's only. Other groups (like Mom's) will be able to use it during the week. We've also worked it into the lease to rent the banquet center for as little as $25/hour if it's not previously booked. This will be great for other meetings we want to have.
  • Set up and take down will be easier. With our own retail space, we can store all of our equipment and just have to put it on carts to transport it across the hall into the banquet center vs. putting things in and out of a trailer. This will save both wear and tear on the equipment as well as the movers. We also have until 1pm to finish, so we can have longer services and not feel so rushed. Plus, the mall will let us set up on Saturday night if the banquet center is not booked. All in all, it's a good deal for us.
2. Where is the space and what does it cost?
  • We will be leasing the old Ben Franklin space, right next to the Bowling alley. This is very convenient to both the banquet center and the back entrance and the mall restrooms. We had originally wanted a smaller space but we feared running out of space and then having our rent double plus another renovation cost. It was cheaper to secure a bigger space from the beginning and do one renovation. (We looked at this space in the begining but thought it too expensive. Since then, they reduced it's size by adding a wall and so the rent was cheaper.)
  • We worked a backloaded lease that starts at $2500/month and works it's way up to $5200/month the last year. This allows our finances to grow as we grow. The monthly average over the three year lease is $4250. That's an all-inclusive price, including heat and electricity, common area expenses, parking lot upkeep and use of the banquet center. It may sound expensive, but this is an outstanding price.
3. Wouldn't it be better to take that money and invest it into a building now or at least save the money?

That's a good question. We have all thought this one through and in this case, it's better to lease for a few reasons...
  • It buys us time. It's like a young couple renting an apartment when they are first married to find out where their jobs will be and what size family they want before they buy a house. Buying too early can waste money because you might buy something that doesn't fit your needs. Cedarbrook is still learning who God wants us to be. Will we be a church of 1000? 1500? Will we be a church of 400 that starts other churches? We aren't sure yet and so we don't want to build too soon. We also aren't sure what ministries to build for because they seem to be added monthly!
  • It builds a support base. I'm friends with a number of pastors who are building right now. They are about double our size, around 800 on a Sunday. When they did their fundraising they were both able to raise just under one million dollars. Church buildings today run around three million and up. There's no way we could support that kind of price tag today. The mall will be an excellent interim venue for us to meet to grow to that 800 size before we talk about building.
  • It saves us money. The debt service on one million dollars alone would be $5,000/month. That's not principal or utilities for a building or salary for the necessary custodian, or upkeep on the building. Buildings are very very expensive and it would be very risky of us to venture into a building effort now before we have the revenue flow we need. Over three years we will only spend $150K on rent. In light of what a building will cost, that's a good deal, giving us the time we need to plan well for the future. Staying at the threatre isn't the answer because we would not grow in people and therefore financially. We'd just plateau.
  • It helps us focus on people not bricks. Because we aren't servicing a huge debt, we can hire staff and send people to New Orleans and rent buses for our youth group and offer Comedy Clubs at the Mabel Tainter, and on and on.... If we don't have the cash flow, all that will stop and our church life will suddenly become all about the building. No one wants that. A building is good, butat the right time.
4. When will we build then?
  • The best case scenario is that we grow quickly after the move to the mall and can then start planning to build the last year of our three year lease. This is a little optimistic but not impossible.
  • We want to pay off our land debt first. You'll be hearing more about how we plan to do that in the Fall after we get moved in to the mall.
5. What about the sound and sight concerns in the banquet center?
  • Sound and sight lines are the biggest challenge of the move. We've been in a premium space the past four years ( A little spoiled by church standards!). In some ways, it will feel like a step down, but we believe that we are geting back much more than we are giving up. We already have some ideas to improve the sound. And for sight lines, we hope to recruit a camera crew so images of people on stage can be projected on the screens (multiple) throughout the banquet center. We've prided ourselves on being innovative so I see these difficulties as challenges that we can overcome if we put our minds to it! We welcome your ideas to overcome these problems.
6. What kind of help do we need to pull this off?
Thanks for asking!!!!
  • We need carpenters to put up walls and sheetrockers to finish the walls and painter to paint the walls.
  • We need designers to help Children's Ministries create an attractive, dynamic space that people in the mall will be drawn too.
  • We need a new set up crew to help put up and take down chairs.
  • We need more children workers and teachers because they want to expand the classes.
  • We need sound, tech and camera people. We will train! This is a big part of offering an excellent Sunday experience.
These are the pressing needs right now.

I'll stop here although I'm sure you have more questions. You can either e-mail them to me directly or post your comment/question below. Keep coming back as I'll be adding more Q & A over the coming month.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

It's Summer & Welcome Applicants!

There's nothing worse than a blog that isn't current. I mean, that's what they are about...current thoughts on current issues.

Well, my current issues over the next few weeks are vacation, painting my house, writing, planning the coming year and trying to keep my flowers from drying up! So, pardon my spotty entries this summer. I apologize in advance.

I'm also in the process of hiring a youth pastor. Welcome to applicants checking out my thoughts. Please flip through the archives to find my reflections on church. You can start with "The Contrarian's Approach to the Da Vinci Code" at 2006-05-07. It captures my philosophy in a nutshell.

It's important that you get a feel for my approach to church because there is a distinct culture at Cedarbrook that you will either love or hate depending upon your church background. So, I'm just trying to save us all some time! (Another good thread to follow is "Why I Don't Like Church" at 2006-01-08 below.)

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Gnostic Gospels and Women

Much has been made of the gnostic gospels, and specifically the Gospel of Thomas. Dan Brown implied that the gnostic gospels were written before the biblical gospels and that they promoted the idea of the sacred feminine. Plus, many people have advocated the inclusion of the Gospel of Thomas into the Bible.

Here are a couple of gnostic writings that are worth reflecting on before we put too much stock in their value...

Simon Peter said to them, ‘Let Mary leave us, for women are not worthy of the life.’ Jesus said, ‘Behold, I shall lead her in order that I may make her male, that she too may become a living spirit which resembles you males. For every woman who will make herself male will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Gospel of Thomas. 51.18-26

Flee from the madness and bondage of femininity, and choose for yourselves the salvation of masculinity. Zostrianos 130.5-8

These writings might be interesting to study various religious thought. But they fall short of being quite a bit.

Friday, June 02, 2006

The Dead Sea Scrolls and Dan Brown

If you don't know church history, Dan Brown's historical talk is breath taking...shocking. He makes you feel like a fool for having believed the church's lies all these years. But, let me ease your mind. Dan Brown either is a terrible historian or a great marketer (maybe a little of each!).

After Leigh Teabing tells Sophie the "truth" about how Constantine made up the idea that Jesus was divine (see post below) he "verifies" it with this statement...

Fortunately for historians, some of the gospels that Constantine attempted to eradicate managed to survive. The Dead Sea scrolls were found in the 1950’s hidden in a cave…in the Judean desert…, these documents speak of Christ’s ministry in very human terms. … The scrolls highlight glaring historical discrepancies and fabrications, clearly confirming that the modern Bible was compiled and edited by men who possessed a political agenda- to promote the divinity of the man Jesus Christ and use his influence to solidify their own power base. P. 234

Well, the only “glaring historical discrepancies and fabrications” are from Brown. Nothing in the paragraph above is true. What’s wrong with what he said about the Dead Sea Scrolls? It says that the Dead Sea scrolls speak of Christ’s ministry in very human terms...but that’s impossible. The Dead Sea Scrolls were written before Jesus was even born! They say nothing about Jesus or the early church, let alone the humanity of Jesus. Oops. I guess we weren't supposed to know that!

Have you picked up on Brown's literary manipulations that reinforce his "historical" aura? He starts out by saying..."Fortunately, for historians..." Whew. Yeah. Good thing for those scrolls, otherwise we might have someone trying to lie to us about the truth! Then he talks about "glaring" discrepancies that "clearly" show the truth. I guess the old saying works for Dan...if you tell a lie long enough eventually people will believe it's the truth. I hope you don't!

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Da Vinci "Facts": Is Jesus Merely Human?

Here's an excerpt from my sermon yesterday discussing some of the misinformation found in The Da Vinci Code. Read or download the full text here...

In The Da Vinci Code book, the character, Leigh Teabing tells Sophie that it was at the Council of Nicea (AD 325) that the delegates voted on the divinity of Jesus.

…Constantine needed to strengthen the new Christian tradition, and held a famous ecumenical gathering known as the Council of Nicea… At this gathering, Teabing said, many aspects of Christianity were debated and voted upon – the date of Easter, the role of the bishops, the administration of sacraments, and of course, the divinity of Jesus….Until that moment in history, Jesus was viewed by his followers as a mortal prophet…a great and powerful man, but a man nonetheless. A mortal…Jesus’ establishment as the Son of God was officially proposed and voted on by the Council of Nicea.” And Sophie says, “Hold on. You’re saying Jesus’ divinity was the result of a vote? Teabing replies, “A relatively close vote at that.”

This couldn’t be farther from the truth. There was no discussion at the Council of Nicea over whether or not Jesus was God. This is one of the most misleading "facts" in the book. Every early follower of Jesus believed that Jesus was God. That was without question. The discussion at the Council of Nicea was over the nature of Jesus’divinity and humanity. There was a group of people known as Gnostics who didn’t believe that Jesus was fully human. They believed that he only appeared to be human. To them, it was impossible for God to appear in the flesh because flesh was sinful. And so – that was the argument of the day. Not if Jesus was God but if Jesus could be both fully God and fully human.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Da Vinci Code Movie Review

I looked forward to the Da Vinci Code movie. Even though I disagreed with the theology and reworking of church history, I enjoyed the book. But I left the theatre on opening night feeling flat. I'm not sure what the problem was. I think the acting was fine. It held fairly true to the book. (I was actually a bit shocked because the movie was almost exactly how I had imagined it would be when I read the book). My guess is that there were some problems inherent to the fact that it was based on a book.

I'm not a fiction reader so I have rarely seen a movie based on a book I've read. I love a good movie, especially suspense movies. But having read the book, there was no suspense. I was never on the edge of my seat. And I kept noticing all the things omitted in the movie that were in the book. You can't help that. The book is over 450 pages. To do justice to the book you'd have to have a "24" version of the movie. So, all the interesting details from the book, especially about art and history, were gone.

Now, because of that, the movie wasn't nearly as controversial as the book was. The book went on for pages "documenting" the Holy Grail theory with interesting "facts". But, in the movie, the Grail theory was reduced to the idea of Leigh Teabing and came across far fetched and inconceivable where as in the book the theory is promoted by not only Teabing but Langdon and came across with much more authority. In fact, in the movie, Langdon actually challenges the theory, an obvious concession to the fury over the book. If you hadn't read the book, you'd probably wonder what all the fuss has been about because it appears obvious that the theory isn't true. Both Opus Dei and Teabing were skating on the edge of insanity.

I don't know how to rate The Da Vinci Code. If you've read the book, my guess is that you'll be entertained but not impressed. If you haven't read the book, you'll probably find it interesting but leave confused because there wasn't much explanation about the Opus Dei clandestine meetings. You'll want to go back and read the book to answer all your questions.

If your friends are looking for someone to join them, I'd go. Otherwise, wait for the video.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Dialoguing about the Da Vinci Code

Here's the last installment of the interview with Brian McLaren in Sojourners magazine;

SJ: In light of The Da Vinci Code movie that is soon to be released, how do you hope churches will engage this story?

McLaren: I would like to see churches teach their people how to have intelligent dialogue that doesn't degenerate into argument. We have to teach people that the Holy Spirit works in the middle of conversation. We see it time and time again - Jesus enters into dialogue with people; Paul and Peter and the apostles enter into dialogue with people. We tend to think that the Holy Spirit can only work in the middle of a monologue where we are doing the speaking.

So if our churches can encourage people to, if you see someone reading the book or you know someone who's gone to the movie, say, "What do you think about Jesus and what do you think about this or that," and to ask questions instead of getting into arguments, that would be wonderful. The more we can keep conversations open and going the more chances we give the Holy Spirit to work. But too often people want to get into an argument right away. And, you know, Jesus has handled 2,000 years of questions, skepticism, and attacks, and he's gonna come through just fine. So we don't have to be worried.

Ultimately, The Da Vinci Code is telling us important things about the image of Jesus that is being portrayed by the dominant Christian voices. [Readers] don't find that satisfactory, genuine, or authentic, so they're looking for something that seems more real and authentic.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Left Behind vs. the Da Vinci Code...

I'm continuing the Sojourners interview with Brian McLaren. Enjoy...

SJ: Do you think the book contains any significantly detrimental distortions of the Christian faith?

McLaren: The book is fiction and it's filled with a lot of fiction about a lot of things that a lot of people have already debunked. But frankly, I don't think it has more harmful ideas in it than the Left Behind novels. And in a certain way, what the Left Behind novels do, the way they twist scripture toward a certain theological and political end, I think Brown is twisting scripture, just to other political ends. But at the end of the day, the difference is I don't think Brown really cares that much about theology. He just wanted to write a page-turner and he was very successful at that.

SJ: Many Christians are also reading this book and it's rocking their preconceived notions - or lack of preconceived notions - about Christ's life and the early years of the church. So many people don't know how we got the canon, for example. Should this book be a clarion call to the church to say, "Hey, we need to have a body of believers who are much more literate in church history." Is that something the church needs to be thinking about more strategically?

McLaren: Yes! You're exactly right. One of the problems is that the average Christian in the average church who listens to the average Christian broadcasting has such an oversimplified understanding of both the Bible and of church history - it would be deeply disturbing for them to really learn about church history. I think the disturbing would do them good. But a lot of times education is disturbing for people. And so if The Da Vinci Code causes people to ask questions and Christians have to dig deeper, that's a great thing, a great opportunity for growth. And it does show a weakness in the church giving either no understanding of church history or a very stilted, one-sided, sugarcoated version.

On the other hand, it's important for me to say I don't think anyone can learn good church history from Brown. There's been a lot of debunking of what he calls facts. But again, the guy's writing fiction so nobody should be surprised about that. The sad thing is there's an awful lot of us who claim to be telling objective truth and we actually have our own propaganda and our own versions of history as well. Let me mention one other thing about Brown's book that I think is appealing to people. The church goes through a pendulum swing at times from overemphasizing the deity of Christ to overemphasizing the humanity of Christ. So a book like Brown's that overemphasizes the humanity of Christ can be a mirror to us saying that we might be underemphasizing the humanity of Christ.

see full article here

Thursday, May 11, 2006

McLaren on the Da Vinci Code

One of my favorite contrarian's is Brian McLaren. Someone passed along an interview that he did in Sojourner's Magazine. I'd like to share a bit of it over the next few days...

SJ: What do you think the popularity of The Da Vinci Code reveals about pop culture attitudes toward Christianity and the church?

Brian McLaren: I think a lot of people have read the book, notjust as a popular page-turner but also as an experience in shared frustration with status-quo, male-dominated,power-oriented, cover-up-prone organized Christian religion. We need to ask ourselves why the vision of Jesus hinted at in Dan Brown's book is more interesting, attractive, and intriguing to these people than the standard vision of Jesus they hear about in church. Why would so many people be disappointed to find that Brown's version of Jesus has been largely discredited as>fanciful and inaccurate, leaving only the church's conventional version? Is it possible that, even though Brown's fictional version misleads in many ways, it at least serves to open up the>possibility that the church's conventional version of Jesus may not do him justice?

SJ: So you think The Da Vinci Code taps into dissatisfaction with Jesus as we know him?

McLaren: For all the flaws of Brown's book, I think what he's doing is suggesting that the dominant religious institutions have created their own caricature of Jesus. And I think people have a sense that that's true. It's my honest feeling that anyone trying to share their faith in America today has to realize that the Religious Right has polluted the air. The name "Jesus" and the word "Christianity" are associated with something judgmental, hostile, hypocritical, angry, negative, defensive, anti-homosexual, etc. Many of our churches, even though they feel they represent the truth, actually are upholding something that's distorted and false. I also think that the whole issue of male domination is huge and that Brown's suggestion that the real Jesus was not as misogynist or anti-woman as the Christian religion often has>been is very attractive. Brown's book is about exposing hypocrisy and cover-up in organized religion, and it is exposing organized religion's grasping for power. Again, there's something in that that people resonate with in the age of pedophilia scandals, televangelists, and religious political alliances. As a follower of Jesus I resonate with their concerns as well.

see full article here (you have to sign up for the Sojourners email to view it.)

The Contrarian's Approach to the Da Vinci Code

I'm a contrarian by nature. Whenever I see a rush of people headed in one direction, I tend to question "group think" and assume there is good reason to consider going the opposite direction. It's not always the case. But it's a good exercise to keep me intellectually honest.

Currently I see a rush to judgment in the Christian community regarding the Da Vinci Code. Spin the dial (do radio's still have dials?) on any given day and you'll find radio shows offering convincing evidence that Dan Brown has distorted the facts of both the Bible and Christian history. It's a hands down, in your face, slam dunk affair. Any moderately educated believer can refute Brown's "facts".

But when I see that, it makes me cautious. When things are that easy, I wonder if maybe I'm missing the point. Maybe "refuting the errors" of the Da Vinci Code isn't the way to go. Maybe that's the wrong tack to take. The contrarian in me says that it might be wise to affirm the "truth" imbedded in his errors. What do I mean?

The Da Vinci Code is a page turner, not just because it's a thriller. It's a page turner because Brown captures the essence of many concerns about God and faith. We have seen so much hypocrisy, so much hype, so much spiritual abuse in the church that many of us now stay away from God, faith and church all together. Brown captures that sentiment. So, my sense is that the true "trap of the devil" in all this might be for the church to run around with their fact books pointing out error. In some very real sense, that's the very thing that Brown is exposing in the church. It's that critical, power hungry approach to "unbelievers" that most people find so offensive.

So, what's good about the Da Vinci Code? If we listen, what's good is that it clues us in to the disillusionment and discontent among the masses about God, etc. We can point out how wrong Brown is and think we've "won" or we can pull a chair up along side our friends and say, "Tell me more. I really want to hear why you struggle so much with the church".

At least, that's the contrarian way...

Friday, May 05, 2006

How to Release Your Anger...for Good!

I recently resurrected a seminar "business" that I let die when I started Cedarbrook. I've taught two seminars for the past nine years or on learning how to release your anger and forgive and the other one on overcoming the devastating effects of shame.

I had them both recorded on cassette tapes but when those went out of style I stopped reproducing them. I recently got motivated to update them and record them professionally in a studio. I just finished the one on anger this past week (How to Release Your Anger...for Good!). It's now available in a four cd album as well as in an e-book format. You can purchase them from my other website at

I'm working at rewriting and updating the seminar on shame now. I hope to have it recorded and available in June.

If you would be so kind as to put a link to my website on your blog or website (or church website), I'd appreciate it. If you read the reference page on my site you'll hear that people find it pretty helpful. I think that comes from the fact that I developed it out of discussion with angry people on a daily basis for ten years!

Thanks for checking it out.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Five Reasons to See the Da Vinci Code

See my other post on the Da Vinci Code before you read this...

Now that you get my premise, let me be more specific. Here are five reasons you should see the movie.

1. You need to be aware of what people in our culture are interested in. There are few cultural events that impact so many people. People will be talking about it at work, school, etc. Don't you want to be part of the discussion?

2. You will communicate that you are open minded and willing to engage. How do you think people feel about you when they ask you about the movie and you say, "That movie is a tool of the devil to deceive the masses"? End of discussion. Next topic. Note to self; find new friends!

3. You will sharpen your mind as you seek to refute the misinformation about the Bible. Don't run from the challenge that Dan Brown presents to Christians. Seize the moment. Brown is taking advantage of people's lack of church history and theology. There is a plethora of books and websites (and pastors!) out now helping you to do your research. So go do it!

4. You might have the chance to steer a friend in the right direction. Dan Brown has given the church a HUGE gift. He's played off of numerous cultural interests (suspicion of authority, church abuse, secret societies, etc.), mixed it with murder and intrigue and made millions. His marketers have paid the bills, he's invited the audience and now we get to play the game. If we do our research, we'll win because Brown's research is seriously flawed. True seekers and people who are willing to go beyond what they want to be true (the Bible is a flawed and manipulated text that now gives me the right to ignore it) will see the truth and hopefully encounter God. Don't miss your chance to be a part of church history!

5. You just might enjoy it!

Should You See The Da Vinci Code Movie?

In talking to some people I was surprised to hear that some Christians are boycotting the Da Vinci Code movie. I guess it's just a "tool of the devil" in their minds. Hmmmm...well, maybe. But I never like to give the devil too much credit. The Da Vinci Code movie and book may be the devil's tool but he's never been known for using his tools that well. After all, I think the cross was his tool. It seems that God came out on top with that one!

It concerns me when I see Christians disengaging from our culture just because they deem something as bad or immoral or unbiblical. What do they expect? This isn't heaven. Why the surprise? Our call as followers of Jesus is to be there in the middle of the discussion, not abandon it, or draw such stark lines that no one wants to talk to us.

Living in this world will always present a tension for Jesus followers. The answer isn't to eliminate, condemn or ignore evil. Our job, should we choose to accept it, is to wade into the world at all levels and discern between good and evil, right and wrong, light and dark. And as we do, point others to the Source of all good, right and light.

Jesus spoke of this tension when he gave the story of the wheat and the weeds (Matthew 13:24-30). He said that someone came and sowed weeds in the farmer's field one night. Then there were weeds among the wheat. The laborers wanted to know if they should pull up the weeds. The farmer said, no, that might just damage the wheat. Wait until harvest and it will be easier to distinguish between the two.

That's our call as laborers here on earth. We are to live in the tension of truth and error and wait until the "harvest" when God himself will distinguish between the two.

All that to say, see the Da Vinci Code. More on this soon...

Monday, April 24, 2006

The Gospel of Judas and the Missing Link

Every month or two there seems to be some new discovery that relates to either the Bible or evolution or both. Last week two items were in the news.

The first one was about a new document they found, dating from 300 B.C. It tells a different version of Jesus and Judas. They are calling it the Gospel of Judas. This one is much more kind to Judas, showing that Jesus actually told Judas to betray him and not to worry because he'd be honored for it some day. In the midst of all of the Da Vinci Code excitement this document seems to stir the pot even more. But any historian knows that there were numerous gnostic believers who moved away from the original teachings of Jesus to create a modified version of their own. This new document doesn't take away anything from the biblical documents. It just verifies the fact that there were dissenters. Yawn. Tell us something we don't know.

A bigger news item was released last week that got a lot of evolutionists excited. They found what is seen to be the first fossil that offers a link between a sea and land animal. In the opinion of many, this was the virtual undoing of the Intelligent Design theory.

Now, I'm no scientist or church historian. So I'm not going to go into some long discussion of the details of either evolution or early church documents, but the excitement over both of these items by people who are hoping to disprove those who believe in the Bible as God's revealed word is a bit premature, don't you think? And if any believers are quaking, thinking that they are standing on shaky ground, I offer this analogy...

It's like being up 20 -0 in the ninth inning with two outs and a 3-2 count and the other team scores a hit. Does that mean you concede the game? I don't think so. There's a big distance between one hit and winning the game!

I'm not trying to diminish or disregard the entire evolutionary theory or the truth contained in other church documents. They have some merit. There's probably some truth there. In regard to evolution, maybe God did use it to create us. If evolution was proven to be true tomorrow I wouldn't miss a beat. My faith doesn't hang by that thread. But people are going to have to show me a lot more than one "missing link" to prove evolution. The real issue is how did life spring from non-life? And how did complexity arrise from simplicity without an Intelligent Designer?

And as far as the Bible is concerned, people are going to have to show me a lot more than a document written 300 years after the birth of Jesus to disprove the writings of people who lived with Jesus. So, enjoy the news releases. But I'm not losing sleep over them!

Monday, April 17, 2006

An Irresistable Revolution

When I got back from New Orleans, one of my associates put the new book, The Irresistable Revolution in my hands, by Shaine Claiborne.

On the opening pages he comments on how celebrities and pop stars have rallied others to address poverty...
But most Christian artists and preachers have remained stangely distant from human suffering, offering the world eternal assurance over prophetic imagination. Perhaps it should not surprise us that Jesus says that if the Christians remain silent, then the rocks will cry out...or the rock stars, I guess.

Meanwhile many of us find ourselves estranged from the narrow issues that define conservatives and from the shallow spirituality that marks liberals. We are thirsty for social justice and peace but have a hard time finding a faith community that is consistently pro-life or that recognizes that there are "moral issues" other than homesexuality and abortion, moral issues like war and poverty. So some folks just end up trying to save individual souls from their sins, and others end up trying to save the world from "the system". But rarely do we see that the sickness of our world has infected each of us, and that the healing of our world not only begins within us but does not end with us.
pages 17,18

It's good to see Shane championing the gospel and willing to break convention to do it. He has spent time in a leper colony in Calcutta, visited Iraq to protest the war and lives in community among the poor of Philidelphia. He gives me hope for the future of the church. Sometimes I feel so entrenched in churchianity that I wonder if we will ever truly embody the good news. Maybe God will use Shane to create a new kind of christian and a new kind of church.

Like many young people, Shane talks about his discoveries as if he is the first one to see them...( my dad used to smile at rock stars singing about sex and say, "They act like they invented it")...but other than that, I think it's a good read that will challenge every serious follower of Jesus.

Don't let his politics offend you. That's not the point and besides, how can you deal with the message of God if it doesn't somehow cause you to rethink everything...even mom and apple pie!

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

I Don't Want to Be Safe Anymore

I've been off-line for a few days...letting my New Orleans trip percolate. There's a shift taking place inside of me. I think my trip opened my eyes to see something about who God is and what it means to follow in a new way.

Before we left to help with the Katrina Relief our team saw a video about a church in Covington, LA (Trinity Church) that was helping people with the devastation. One man who went to help said this at the end of his time of serving...."I'll never be the same. I'm not safe anymore. My church won't be safe either." By not being "safe" he was saying that he couldn't live the predictable, orderly, Sunday Christianity any more. He saw that following Jesus meant not only helping the poor and disadvantaged, it meant being WITH them in their pain. Not just "fixing" them but standing with them and identifying with them.

When I heard him say that, I thought, "I want that. I don't want my life or my church to be safe either." Well, I can't speak for the church yet, but for me, I'm feeling pretty dangerous...pretty unsafe in the sense that my focus is much more toward meeting people where they are at. I think I've already had that orientation, to a degree. But one thing that's easy to do in a helping profession is to think in terms of fixing - almost like a surgeon. You go in, help and leave... untouched by the moment because you know that if you open your heart up too much to all the pain around you you might get swallowed up and then be of no use to anyone. That's a valid concern but it can also be an excuse to remain aloof. And if that's people's take on me, I'm not helping them to see Jesus because Jesus was never aloof.

more to come...

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Hearing the Whisper of God

A number of people on our Katrina team went on the mission thinking that God would speak to them in a profound way. Few got the experience that they were expecting. I wrote them this note when we returned...

Katrina Team;

At Cafe DuMonde and in the truck going home people were saying that they didn't get the big AHA moment that they had hoped for on the trip. That didn't surprise me. I guess as I get older I "hear" God in the subtle things, not the big AHA moments.

This morning I read this in my devotions...

"We misunderstand God altogether if we think he deals coursely with our souls (meaning that he makes things obvious). If we consider what has really influenced our lives, we will find that it lies in a few silent voices that have preached to us, the winds which have passed across our soul so gently that we scarce could tell when they were come or gone. Even in the midst of the battle, when coarser weapons fail, let us not forget the lesson of Elijah: [who said...]
'A great powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks be fore the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquatke came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.' (1 Kings 19:11-12)

When God speaks he speaks so loudly that all the voices of the world seem dumb. And YET, when God speaks he speaks so softly that no one hears the whisper but yourself". Bread and Wine, page 129-130

I think God will be whispering to us all for a long time about our experience. So I encourage us to listen, reflect and then share what we hear with each other...even months from now.

I pass these thoughts along because you might be wondering how God speaks to you.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Looking Back on New Orleans

Sitting here looking out at a foot of snow inside of a warm, odor-free house makes me feel like New Orleans was a dream. Yet I know I was there because when I look at my house I'm always thinking how I could best knock out a wall or tear down the cubboards! Kinda weird. I also get sad whenever I drive by a nice shopping center with cars because so many in New Orleans are vacant and boarded up. (Picture: the team suits up for the first time, ready to enter the mold infested home.)

So, was it worth it? We traveled 2500 miles and spent $2500 to gut two houses. Only 199,998 more to go! Yeah, it was worth it. I'd do it again in a heart beat. I can't right now, but I hope our going will inspire others to take the baton and run with it. Like so many things, no one act of compassion/kindness is the answer. The answer is in a lot of people doing as much as they can for as long as they can with the help of God to empower and encourage them to keep at it. (Picture: this is the first house we worked on. The FEMA trailer is in front. The owner just moved into it on Thursday.)

New Orleans is in very tough shape. They won't turn the corner on this problem for years. Our team tried to come up with a way of relating what we saw but we can't. No one picture captures it. You really have to experience house after house and mile after mile of devastation to appreciate the magnitude of what happened down there. (Picture; Kate, Tom, Phil and Karla take a break.)

I mean, just think of where you live. Imagine that EVERY house needed to be repaired at some level. Imagine that MOST of the homes were unliveable and people were camping in a trailer or tent or even living in their car while their home sat rotting. And then you have to travel across town to find a store that wasn't damaged to buy what you need. Then imagine that most of your neighbors aren't even bothering to return because it hurts or costs too much. So, even if you do restore your home, the neighborhood may be a rotting ghost town. (Picture: a house was pushed off it's foundation and onto a car from the rush of the broke levee water.)

Our trip is over but I hope our heart holds New Orleans close to us. And I hope it's sensitized us to the needs that exist all around us and how we can help others instead of always looking out for our own needs. (Picture; this is what the house looked like after knocking out walls, etc. day one. After day two the toilet and all walls were gone as well.)

This Sunday at Cedarbrook our team will give an overview of our trip. We are looking to send another team down to New Orleans this Spring. Would you like to go? If you live in another city, I bet you can find a group going down that you can join. Or, just grab a few friends and contact
Samaritan's Purse. They are a top notch organization that is doing a great work down there. Click here for more photos of the area. (Picture; our crew takes one last photo at base camp before heading home.)

Friday, March 17, 2006

New Orleans: Job Accomplished

We stumbled onto a great hole in the wall restaurant in the French Quarter (Coops).

We spent the last two days back in the Ninth Ward in St. Bernard's Parish (click for photos). The north side of this district got 20 feet of water. We were on the south side working in a house that got five feet. We drove through the neighborhood that was next to the levee breach. I was wiped out - totally leveled and washed away in parts - just depris remaining. I got a picture of a house on top of a car.

The sad thing about this district is that there was a million gallon oil spill from the local refinery (Murphy Oil). Because the oil made all the homes toxic the local city can't take the garbage. But Murphy Oil won't take the garbage unless the home owner settles with them. So the homes that are gutted have all kinds of gross stuff in front of their homes for weeks and weeks. Rats and cats and dogs are feeding off the refuse. Very gross.

We worked our butts off the last two days! We are exhausted - but in a good way. Today it was 85 degrees and we put in the longest day yet. People were pretty wiped but stuck it out until the end.

When we "gut" a house we start by taking out the furniture and personal items. We didn't have to do that in the first house. Taking out this stuff was pretty emotional for some of us - just imagining the family and all of their loss. After that we strip the floor and ceiling molding, knock out the sheetrock and pull up the wood floor, lineoleum, whatever. I spent most of the morning ripping out kitchen cupboards and built-in dishwasher and stove/oven. Then I moved on to the bathroom where I beat out the tile around the tub and walls. I've got a bad elbow so Phil took over, then Tom. I think they were getting into it. Swinging a sledgehammer is pretty fun. I was jealous!

We head back tomorrow at noon. I want to take the team to Cafe du Monde for coffee and bignets. You can't leave New Orleans before doing that. We'll recap our experience and then head to Memphis for the night. One more entry tomorrow.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

New Orleans: Day Two

We finished our first house today then decided to take a peek at tomorrow's work before heading home. It's in the, now famous, ninth ward- one of the hardest hit areas.

As soon as we crossed the river we saw what we hadn't seen so far - devastation. Yesterday I talked about the internal damage to homes. In the ninth ward there are homes off their foundation, shrimp boats in neighborhoods and we saw an in-ground, concrete swimming pool in someone's front yard. Not sure how that happened.

But when we got to our house it had already been gutted by another team earlier this week. So I don't know where we'll be tomorrow.

The ninth ward is a large area, probably two miles or more east to west and a mile north to south. It's homes and shopping centers. It looks like a war zone. Just about every business is boarded up - whole shopping centers. And the neighborhoods are mostly deserted. People have moved to live with relatives or friends. We talked to one family that was back just to clean up then they are leaving. They don't have any neighbors that are staying. It's all very weird. I don't see any answers to this other than to bulldoze acres and acres. The ninth ward had an oil spill contaminating the floodwaters, so I don't see how people can even consider rebuilding. I guess when that's all you have, you do what you have to do.

We've talked to a few people but no dramatic encounters. Still two days to go. But I really think the best encounters so far are within the team. I'm really enjoying getting to know everyone and working hard together. It's a great experience and something that I know will serve as a model for the rest of Cedarbrook.

I'm taking the crew out for some Cajun food tomorrow so I won't be writing again until Friday. Thanks for your interest and prayers for us.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Live from New Orleans we are. I'm reporting in.

We made it down through incredible storms. We hit hail in Illinois and the temperature went up 30 degrees after that. Very weird. Ribs in St. Louis then on and off torrential downpours yesterday. We arrived to a very humid 78 degrees and a traffic jam. That surprised us. We had heard that New Orleans was a ghost town. Not least not on the freeways. They are packed solid.

Our hotel is a big gym with 80 air mattresses. Comfortable. Good food. Nice hosts (Samaritan's Purse). We went through an orientation this morning and finely got to our house project around 11am. More surprises. We were braced for horror but if it wasn't for the piles of wood outside of some homes, and the porta-potty's on every other street corner, we'd never suspect a problem just driving down the street. If you turn off into a neighborhood you start to see what's wrong. Big trees uprooted. Houses boarded up or covered with blue tarps. The absence of normal life. Contractors looking for their assignment. You can't really tell things are wrong on the outside (in our neighborhood, that is).

Our house was a small two bedroom. We were told that we'd probably have to shovel out a foot of mud and carry out personal belongings but neither were true. The house was empty and no mud. But it was clear that there had been water up to the ceiling. Mold was growing all over and the ceiling had fallen in in the bedroom. The neighbor told us that two people had to be rescued by cutting holes in their attics after being stranded for days.

Our 14 members jumped into the work. We've got a great team. Everyone seemed to know where to go and what to do. It's not rocket science. We pull down everything but the studs and floor boards! Lots of dust and it's full of contaminants because the water is full of who knows what (oil, chemicals, sewage, etc.). We wear Tyvek suits with repirators and goggles. We look like a cross between aliens, astronauts and KKK members.

We sweat like dogs but thankfully the weather was like Wisconsin in the spring today; 72 degrees, low humidity and a nice breeze to cool us off. Another surprise.

I'm falling asleep writing this. I don't usually work this hard writing sermons and meeting people! You get the gest. I'll write again tomorrow if things change. We should finish our house tomorrow and move on to a new one.

Pray for us. Safety. Teamwork. Divine encounters. Oh, one funny thing. Most of the other 65 people here are college kids. Our team is feeling reeaaallllly old but at least they have lights out at 9:30pm. Works for me!

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Headed to New Orleans

I leave in a few hours for New Orleans with a team of 14 people from Cedarbrook. I'm excited and a bit nervous at the same time. I've never gone on a trip with so many unknowns. And if anything goes wrong, I don't know how much help there will be around us (stores, gas stations, hospitals, etc.).

But beyond a desire to help others in crisis, I'm going to help Cedarbrook and I'm going to help myself. I'm convinced that the essence of the human condition is selfishness and the only way to address that is to go at it head on - by serving others. (Sorry if that sounds a bit negative but I really think it's true. Self love blocks a lot of good things from happening in our relationships and in the world in general).

Our selfishness is so pervasive - so much a part of who we are - that it's hard to escape. We even serve others to benefit ourselves!

Serving others is something that everyone talks about doing but rarely gets to. I know that's true for me. At best we fund others to serve, which IS a good thing, but we have trouble finding the time to actually do it ourselves. It's so much easy to pay someone else!

I don't have time to go to New Orleans. I'm just doing it and letting everything else suffer because I felt I had to make it a priority - for my own good and the good of the church.

Serving strikes at the heart of our condition because it reveals our selfishness. Our team might leave today full of good will toward men, but I know that it won't take long before we are inconvenienced. It will be hard work. We won't all get along. The living conditions will be substandard. The food may be poor. And that's only the first day!

Add seven more days to that and you start to see how spoiled you really are. You aren't the all loving, all compassionate person you thought you were. Serving shines a spotlight on your heart and then it shines a spotlight on where you need to turn to find a well of love, compassion and strength. That well is God. And that's why people who serve regularly are different. They are in touch with their own weaknesses and they are usually in touch with God's grace.

I hope that happens with us this week. And I hope it begins a pattern in both my life, the lives of our team and the life of Cedarbrook.

Stay tuned. If I can get internet access I hope to post a journal of our trip here.