In the Desert:: Three Feet of Quail

July 10, 2018

I grew up with two dogs throughout my childhood. Maggie and Ginger. 

Ginger was a Hungarian hunting dog called a Vizsla. They're exceptional dogs for going after birds and I once watched Ginger leap into the air and knock one down in flight. Ginger was pretty impressive. 

Ginger also had a number of bad habits, including chasing every car that drove up and down our 100 yard driveway. Ginger was obsessed with attacking the cars and chasing them away. Driving slow and waiting for Ginger to lose interest wasn't a good plan because he would just closer and nip at your tires. Every vehicle was a battle and Ginger intended on winning. 

When Ginger would trot back to the house it was never triumphant. Many other dogs would be celebrating the way they chased the intruders away, but Ginger always looked like he just narrowly missed the catch of a lifetime. It was like he was hoping to chase and catch the car and wrestle to the ground. Drag the car back to our front yard and present the crumpled corpse of the Chrysler as the spoil of war.

One afternoon Ginger finally caught one. My Grandpa had been visiting and took off down the driveway. Ginger was off in the field and found himself in perfect position for an attack from the flank. Grandpa only ever saw a *poof* of dust and a red-haired dog rolling up the driveway. Ginger gained a temporary limp and a scratched up chest, but most importantly he learned a good lesson. 

Be careful what you chase because one day you might catch it. 

This week we'll look at a story that sees the Israelites getting what they want so badly in comedically oversized portions. There are times when our desires take up the whole of our attention that we never bother to ask why these desires and what we would do if they were met. 


In the Desert:: Presence and Absence

July 3, 2018

In 2003 the 5th Harry Potter book was coming out. 

I was woefully unaware of the phenomenon that Harry Potter had become at this stage. I only knew that my wife, who had just started her teaching career, was very plugged into young adult literature and told me this was a big deal. The book release date was right around her birthday, so it felt like the right idea to wait in line and purchase the book on the first date it was released. 

As a 21 year old male, with no children, I was a bit of an oddity in the line to purchase Harry Potter:The Order of the Phoenix.
No scarf. 
No wand. 
No lightening bolt scar on my forehead. 

I was really out of place and struggling to put all these pieces together. When I got to the front of the line the woman who was behind the counter remarked on how much she appreciated that I had worn my "Harry Potter glasses." 

In my lifetime I am 98% sure if the comments that I am receiving are compliments or insults. Very rarely do I ever have to decide between saying "Thank You!" or "Shut Your Face."

Over the next several years I figured out this was meant as a compliment and I jumped feet first into the world of Harry Potter. I'm no expert, but I can hold my own in the Harry Potter universe. 

One concept from the books that I find most interesting is horcruxes.

For the uninitiated, the lead villain in the books has placed portions of his very soul in physical objects around the world that make him immortal until they are all found and destroyed. You can kill his body, but he's preserved by these horcruxes. 

I think it's a fascinating concept to fragment yourself in order to save yourself. If you place enough of the core of your being around the world you can continue to function in the world and attain a demented sort of immortality. 

I think there are a lot of parallels to this concept in our own lives and this concept is one that we're going to be looking at this week as we continue our look at "In the Desert.." and the wilderness experiences of our lives. What are our temptations to fragment ourselves for survival and can we ever hope to unite them all back together again?


In the Desert:: Mirrors and Potential

June 26, 2018

The story of the Israelites is one of Slavery, Wilderness and the Promised Land.

This triad features a kind of reality that is known and becomes comfortable after awhile in the beginning. This is the slavery in Egypt. It's not a reality that anyone would choose, but the pain is repeated often enough to provide a twisted kind of safety and predictability. 

Then there is a major disruption that puts everything into disarray. The parting of the Red Sea signaled a breaking from the past and into a new reality. This new reality was wandering in a desert that was an in-between space. They weren't where they were going, but they definitely weren't where they had been. 

The entering of the Promised Land features a new reality that was unimaginable in the previous stage. It's filled with hope that the sins of Egypt can be corrected in this new society. God's kingdom can come to Earth. 

I'm interested in this cycle of 3 because I think it is instructive for the cycles in life that we see in our own stories. We have times where things feel stable and known. We feel comfortable moving and acting in this stage. And then we have a dramatic change that shifts everything. These times are usually marked by confusion, mourning and a fierce questioning of everything. The following stage is flooded with all the energy of a renewed purpose and direction. Things feel like the click into place again and we can start to gain some traction. 

I believe that when we live in that Promised Land stage long enough we will create a new kind of slavery. Every revolution becomes an institution. 
We start to create rules and structures to preserve this Promised Land and those structures take the Promise right out of the Land. It starts to morph into an unrecognizable reality because you can't ever create enough structures to keep time from moving along. Promised Lands are for periods of time, but they weren't meant to last forever. Time keeps march on.

And so the cycle needs to begin again.

We're going to be exploring this triad of life over the course of our new message series and hope to encourage one another to not fear or fall in love with any one of the stages. To be present to each and every one of them is to be present to how God is moving and working in our lives. 


Perspectives:: Putting All Things Back Together

June 20, 2018

Jason Fileta (Executive Director of Micah Challenge) shares his thoughts on Genesis 28 for the last installment of our Perepectives message series.


Perspectives:: Stones of Remembrance

June 13, 2018

People in the United States are experiencing loneliness at a greater rate than ever before

If you feel alone in reading this email, well, you aren't alone. That isn't a statement to dismiss your sense of isolation, but to point to data that says that it's something many other people are experiencing too. 

It's quite possible our country has never had so many people living it and we have technology that makes our ability to connect greater than ever before. These factors should lead to greater connection between people, but it's having the opposite effect. 

We're surrounded by people and feel a deep loneliness and isolation. In fact, having people all around us can actually lead to a greater sense of isolation. While being surrounded by people, nobody seems like they understand how you see the world. And these feelings become overwhelming. They shape our reality and lead us to believe that no one is with us to laugh, cry, sulk or dance. All of those activities are for us to experience alone without other people to share them. 

And while these narratives are very real in our heads, they aren't true of human experience. We're not alone. There are other people who have had similar experiences who are also feeling isolated and are looking for connection. They want to share their lives with other people and break through the false narrative of isolation. 

I imagine this sense of being all alone in the world is one that Jacob felt while he was in the wilderness running from his brother. He had experienced the close community of his family and twin brother for 40 years of life and had walked away from all of it.  He felt physical and emotional distance. 

And yet in this place is where God greeted him in a dream. He was reminded that we wasn't alone in that space and he wouldn't be alone at any other stage of his life. God was with him and God was going to stay with him. That's a powerful intervention in the depth of isolation. 

You're not alone. 
You won't be alone. 
You are deeply loved and valued. 


Connie Baker:: Spiritual Trauma and Abuse

June 12, 2018

** We had some technical dfficulties with this recording, but our team is awesome and salvaged some audio from a video recording that was happening in the back of teh room. It will sound a little far off.**


Trauma and abuse are words that are thrown around a lot these days.
If we aren't being traumatized by getting the wrong order at your local coffee shop than you're feeling that the person at the DMV counter was using abusive language. 

The temptation when certain words are being over used is to roll your eyes hard when you hear them. While that posture makes sense, it doesn't mean that the concepts aren't helpful to explore. Maybe you need to understand it better for yourself, or maybe you need to understand it better for people that are close to you. 

Certain systems are set up perfectly to produce abusive or traumatic experiences. This doesn't mean that they always create abuse and trauma, but it does mean that we have to be aware so that we can be involved in healthy ways. Systems with significant relational connections and an imbalance of power are places where abuse and trauma can happen. Throw in relationship with the all-powerful and all-seeing God of the universe and you could see how people could be profoundly hurt if it was used against them instead of for them. 

Almost no one creates abusive or traumatic systems by choice. Believing that you aren't an abuser doesn't serve any purpose other than making yourself feel better. We want to lean in to the reality that church can be an abusive or traumatic experience so that we don't become that. 

These concepts aren't ours, but directly the words of Jesus and clearly linked to the few times he showed anger in all the Bible. 


Perspectives:: I Will Be With You

May 30, 2018

The image that I remember most from what I was taught about heaven growing up was that the streets will be covered in gold. 

For an 8 year old, this is not a selling point. 

What am I supposed to do with golden streets? Unless there is chocolate underneath that gold, I wasn't interested. 

A root beer fountain at the center of town? Now we're talking. 
Streets covered in trampolines? I'm all about it. 
Gold teeth for every person? That sounds fun!

In that framework heaven was a place that I just needed to believe was really, really good. If the descriptions didn't appeal to you, don't worry about it. One day you'll get there and you'll finally "get it". It was a future reality that was waaaay better than this reality and all of your dreams (but not the sinful ones) could come true. 

The idea of heaven coming to earth was a confusing one. Is that like a sneak peak of the sequel? Would we just get those golden streets in downtown Lents? How much and what parts of heaven would come to earth? 

In the story that we're lingering on for our current message series, there's a dream where heaven and earth meet. The angels of heaven are seen here on earth as the move up and down these steps. This vision sets Jacob off on a course of seeking after God's leading in his life, but why is that? What about the meeting of heaven and earth matters for us here and now and is that something we'd like to see. 


Perspectives:: God Was In This Place

May 25, 2018

There's just something about the ocean. 

The consistency of the waves. The sound that drowns out everything else. The massive expanse of water that extends beyond the horizon. The life that gathers and thrives in and above the water. 

If I want to be inspired the ocean is always a really good place. I see God in the ocean and I'm reminded of a reality that is bigger and greater than myself because I'm face to face with a reality that is bigger and greater than myself. 

A Motel 6 in Winnemucca, Nevada is not a place I would go to find inspiration. I wouldn't call that space sacred, holy or filled with the presence of the Lord. 

I wouldn't see God in the ice machine, the snack machine or the blinking red light on the phone by the bed. I would probably see God in the Gideon's Bible placed in the nightstand, but I'm just assuming they have one there. 

Why is that? Why do we have certain spaces that we connect with a sense of spirituality and others that we don't? Why do we assume God can be communed with in particular places, but not in others? 

This week we are starting a brand new message series that delves into the times and spaces we expect to see God and the times and places we're sure God isn't in. What if we were constantly growing in our awareness of God's presence and saw all matters as spiritual matters? 

We might wake up one morning and say, "God was in this place, and I didn't know it."


To Be Honest:: Being Right vs. Being in Relationship

May 8, 2018

Do you have a friend that you love to talk about more than your other friends? 

These are usually the people that live the most entertaining and perplexing lives of all your friends. They spent some time in Costa Rica living off the land. They built out the back of their 1998 Astrovan and spent time driving around the country playing coffee shops. In one month they went on 3 dates with women named Molly. ***

Hearing about their most recent exploits is a constant source of fascination because it's odd in comparison to how you see other people functioning. There is usually an undercurrent of judgement in these conversations. You might roll your eyes at the absurdity of their decisions because the results of their choices will so obviously be bad. The words of "I tried to tell them...." are always on the tip of your tongue and ready to be deployed when we can all agree they've made a mess of things. 

So what is the best way to proceed? Do we have an obligation to correct the errors of their ways? Should we hold our tongues and just be there if things fall apart or celebrate when things go well?

What's our responsibility in relationships with people when our interaction with God's truth leads us to different conclusions? 

Jesus was given the impossible task of taking the entirety of the Jewish scriptures and reducing them to its very core. Jesus identified love as our rule and God, self and our neighbors as the direction of that love. While the command is clear, how we walk out that command is complex and challenged by our lack of understanding of ourselves, of God and of others. 


To Be Honest:: Subjective vs. Objective Truth

May 1, 2018

Have you ever heard a child mispronounce a word and find it so adorable you never bothered to correct them? 

Allow the full grown adult version of one such child let you know about the pitfalls of this decision. 


These are the paper (or cloth if you're fancy) devices used to clean up any sort of mess and are most commonly used during meals. Many of you would have corrected me and said that it's actually "napkins". "N" and "M" sound DANGEROUSLY similar and it's an honest mistake, but a mistake nonetheless. 

My family let it slide for the sake of their own entertainment. 

Fast forward to a young child in the public school system asking for another "mapkin". My peers found this to be less adorable and more hysterical.

This was made more hilarious to them with my insistence that they were called mapkins. 

I had always called them mapkins. I asked for a mapkin at home and I was handed one. It was often my job to put the mapkins on the table before dinner. My parents told me to put the mapkin in my lap when we ate out. 

I quickly learned that the rest of my social world called them napkins and I was the one who was wrong. When I confronted my family on this revolutionary truth and the horrible mistake we had all been making for years, I found myself to be all alone. They knew. They weren't calling them mapkins annnnnnywhere else. 

I had a subjective truth that was shattered by the objective truth. Subjective truths are the ones that appear true from your vantage point. Objective truths are true regardless of your vantage point. Regardless of who you are or where you grew up these things are true. 

Do you know people who present their subjective truths as objective truths? It's something that happens a lot and many times we don't know we're doing it until we encounter people who challenge our assumptions of subjective truth. 

Most of us live, hang out and work with people who share our subjective truth. In that setting discovering objective truth is nearly impossible.