Monday, December 27, 2010

2010 - In Reflection

Here are my thoughts as I look back on my personal journey this year. Some themes and values have risen to the top. It was a good year.


This year several of my long-term ideas became realities. I saw a book and a movie completed that were a combined 15 years in the making. Good things take time...lots and lots of time. I think about the things I am working on now differently. So much of life is putting one foot ahead of the other...and then when you get pushed back a few hundred steps, starting over again.


I am a passionate fella, but I have felt like I have been operating on a half-tank of passion for the last five or six years. 2010 was the year that I sensed a return of some of the passion that was lost through the trials of my early experiences. I feel more ready for what is next than I have in a long time, especially as it relates to ministry.


This ties into "passion" for me. I am a learner and always have been, but there are seasons when I learn more as life comes at me...and other seasons when I seek to learn more aggressively. The switch was flipped back to a more aggressive learning posture sometime this year. I think this will progress more in 2011. I'm looking into some graduate school options beginning in the fall of 2011.


Improv started as a hobby for me. Then it became a career. Now it is a lifestyle. It has connected mysteriously to my spiritual gifts and personality. I am not speaking about doing comedy gigs in this context - it is much deeper than that. I am learning that I teach and lead best as an improvisor. I have known this for years, but I tend to not say it because it can come off like an excuse for being disorganized or unprepared. This isn't the case. I think for me it means that I must focus more on organizing my life and preparing for situations before they arise. The statement in I Peter 3 has come to mean more to me this year..."always be prepared to give an answer to anyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have." My goal as a teacher would be to be able to teach from a Kingdom-context about anything at any moment - to always be prepared. This has come to mean that it is more important for me to prepare myself for a message than to prepare a message for an audience.


I have had some tough years, but this was not one of them. I cannot help but think that this life stage for our family will be looked back on with much joy in the years to come. My kids are growing up, but still kids. As Debbie and I approach our sixteenth anniversary this week I am confronted with the beautiful reality that if I date my life back to my earliest memories - half of it has been as her husband. I'd say that I am a lucky guy, but that seems rather trite and understated. I am humbled to have been given the life I have. I don't deserve it. It is all grace.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Get Me to the Church On Time

Hey Cincinnati Friends!

We have a lot of Celebrations coming up to round out the year at Vineyard Cincinnati. I wanted to post the options here so that you can know when to show up:

This coming weekend we have normal times: Sat. 6:30 - Sun. 9, 10:15, 11:45. I will be speaking on "Christmas: The Untold Story - a Love Story."

Then starts a run of five identical special Christmas Celebrations. In years past we have done more of a performance/show at Christmas. (Re-Gifter, A Cat Named Bruce, etc.) Those were great, but this year it seemed best to be more straightforward in our approach. We are getting back to some Vineyard Christmas basics - singing, teaching (both Dave and me), candle lighting and a donut outreach following every Celebration. Come. Bring a friend to experience a warm reminder of the fact that God loves us enough to come looking for us. The Christmas Eve Celebrations on the 24th will be identical to the other three options.
Dec. 21 - 7pm
Dec. 22 - 7pm
Dec. 23 - 7pm
Christmas Eve - 4pm and 6pm

It doesn't stop there. Well, it does for just one day. On Christmas Day we WILL NOT be having our Saturday evening Celebration. But we will have our normal Sunday morning Celebrations at 9, 10:15 and 11:45. Dave will be teaching on Christmas as the Never Ending Story.

We WILL have a Celebration on New Year's Day, Saturday, January 1. I'll be kicking off a new series called All Things New. However, the first weekend of the year will begin  our new regular times. When are those new times, you ask? I'm glad you asked. That is answered in the video below:

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Heaven/Earth Combo Pack

I find myself in the mood to think about heaven today. Maybe just throw out a few opinions that have been brewing in me over the last few years. I was convicted not too long ago that I had not properly elevated resurrection to its proper place in my theology and the practical application of my faith. For many years as young Christian I would have said that the goal of faith is to attain an other-worldly "heaven" after death. Resurrection was a truth that took a back seat to heaven defined as some sort of disembodied experience that existed only after death. Then, beginning in the late 1990's, I discovered the centrality of the Kingdom of God to Jesus' message, life and person. I clearly saw that this sort of wait-to-die-other-worldy-heaven is not the goal of following Jesus; but, if anything, perhaps a future reality of the results of life with God in the present. I began to see that most of the time the word "heaven" is used in the New Testament it references the reality of the current and future reign of God, as opposed to some purely futuristic time and place floating in another future dimension.

Over the last two years I have been challenged primarily through the teachings of theologians like N.T. Wright and Tim Keller to consider more fully the "after-life" implications of a Kingdom-centered, Resurrection-centered theology. I have come in recent years to believe that God is a material God working within a material universe. This means, to me, that God is the God of "stuff" and always does his work in the context of his "stuff." This is true of the creation account, the story of Israel, the incarnation of Christ and the advent of the church. God uses the material stuff he has made, including people, to live out his story. I have come to believe that this material universe was not created to simply be reduced to some spiritual other-worldy existence in the future. In the final analysis, I believe that God will keep and redeem more of his stuff than he will destroy. Of course, some of what the Bible says about the after-life is cryptic and some passages seem to be, at least on the surface, saying subtly different things. (I apologize for speaking in generalities. I am simply not particularly in the mood to document my opinions today. This is more of a brain dump than a fully realized position piece...)

Today I believe in resurrection. I believe in redemption. I believe that I will live again on a new (redeemed/fixed) earth that has been invaded by a new heaven. Heaven will come to earth fully and drive out all that which is hell. This will be a mystery, but I have opinions about it these days. Namely, I think we will have families, friends, jobs, houses and chocolate cake. I think we will continue to write, create art, make business, have dinner parties and play golf. (My dad will be happy about this - at least the golf part.) I think that "heaven" will look a lot like earth does today - minus the hellish and evil parts of it. Many react strongly to this idea when I say it. "Why would I want to live like this forever?" is often the response. It is hard to grasp, but what if your life was reduced only to the moments where God is fully reigning in your heart and world, when your joy is complete in him, when you are love and loved, using your gifts, thriving in life. We have all had those experiences - maybe only for a few minutes here or there. I think that the new Heaven/Earth Combo Pack will look a lot like that. We will be physically resurrected to life after we die. We will be ushered back to populate a properly functioning earth/heaven that is built for us to thrive as fully human. It will be like the Garden of Eden turned City of God - God's real-time, real-world social network built out of humanity's best potential realized under God's direct reign.

This does things to my emotions that my previous concepts of heaven did not allow. It means that for many of the passions deep inside me, the clock is not necessarily clicking. Perhaps I will be free, for instance, to try a few careers that interest me after I die and am resurrected. (We were gardeners in Eden before the fall. We had tasks, jobs, careers. Why would the new Heaven/Earth Combo Pack be so different?)

This all makes me wonder if I should think differently about the idea of human struggle in what we commonly call the after-life. We know that the new post-resurrection Combo Pack will be a place of "no more death or mourning or crying or pain." I have come to wonder of late - now aloud - about the meaning of this though. Death will be beaten through Jesus and our resurrections. I can get that. Life everlasting hurts my brain but I can begin to imagine it at least. What is hard to imagine is a life without struggle. I ask questions like, would I really want to play golf if I always got a hole in one? Or would I desire to write a screenplay if I knew it would be perfect from the beginning of the process? Or why create a piece of art if it will be flawless without much effort on my part? I am thinking aloud and may be bordering on some sort of heresy, but I wonder if we confuse "work" with pain sometimes. I wonder if it is so inherently human to struggle, that struggling will continue in the Combo Pack. Perhaps, I would suggest, we grow to find the joy in these struggles. Maybe we will be so calibrated to God - so able to see all we do as worship - that our "failures" won't create pain but only desire to serve him better. Maybe the after-life, in this hypothesis, isn't about us being perfect but being perfectly fitted for life with God in the context of our humanity and his direct presence.

I reserve the right to be off base with most of this. But it does put some things in perspective today for me. My current relationships somehow matter more if they continue in the Combo Pack. My career and hobbies matter more. My city matters way more if it will someday be a part of the combined new heaven/new earth. Resurrection somehow makes eternity tangible. It means eternity has already started and we are living in it. It begins to chip away at some of the great mysterious statements uttered by Jesus. Namely, that the Kingdom of God has come now...and will fully come later.

Maybe my ramblings today could just lead you to ask different questions. One question to start with: What if "heaven" was more about God coming back to earth than us going to be with God? It seems, at least, like that is the way John envisioned it in Revelation:

Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.