Thursday, December 31, 2009

Dissecting God? Or the Monty Python Approach to Bible Study

If you have ever tried to study the Bible you have probably found that reading the Book doesn’t always offer immediate answers to all that ails you. I know many Christians who have become discouraged trying to glean and understand the truth as it applies to their lives. And too often many of us Christians have been guilty of prescribing Bible study as a magic cure all. We prescribe the correct dosage of verses while ignoring that sometimes simply reading the book is not enough. But if we are honest I think there are times when all of us have looked at this book and wondered what we were missing. It is as if someone forgot to give us our secret decoder ringer, because nothing seems to apply to our particular circumstance.

So how do we avoid this feeling? How do we get the most out of this book that is to be central to our lives? How do we steer clear of the guilt we sometimes feel when our daily Bible studies seem dry and pointless? Is it us? Are we too dense? Flat out stupid?

First off, don’t sweat it. All of us have been there, and if we say we find wonderful revelations that speak directly to our souls each time we open the word – well, we’re lying. There are going to be days when the Bible seems like any other book, it isn’t but it can sure seem that way sometimes. If we aren’t careful that sense of not “getting it” will send us into a spiral of guilt and self condemnation that we make us avoid our Bibles up.

Second, let me offer you a few tools that most Christians don’t utilize. The first one is a method of Bible study used in the rabbinic schools. Many rabbis taught that the Bible should not be studied alone, and they established a method of study where the Bible was studied in pairs. The verses were read and then discussed. There is something that happens in talking it out. The words become more than a story, more than something that happened thousands of years ago, and the truths of the scriptures are come alive. It isn’t some magical process. It is how we are wired as human beings.

Stop for a second and think about your favorite movie. You probably saw it with someone you care about, you probably discussed it with your friends, and even spontaneously quote random lines from it. Something as common as a movie takes on a new significance if you share it with someone. Even movies you may not particularly enjoy watching become memorable if you share it with the right people – think Monty Python.

So buddy up. Find someone to talk about the Bible. Get their perspective, share yours, and search out the answers for any questions you might have. I am not advocating doing away with all individual study of the Bible, but there is strength in numbers, use it.

The second method is imaginative reading. Don’t just blow threw a passage. Stop and really think about what if it were you standing at the base of Mount Sinai, confronted by the lions, or watching the locusts swarm across the Egyptian sky? Put yourself in the scene, and not as someone who knows the end of the story. Really think about how you feel if you were experiencing that event.

Set the stage in your mind with as much vivid detail as you can. Find some pictures of the land, some recreations of homes, caravans, and market places. Feel the sand in the wind as the breath of God divided the waters of the Red Sea, hear the pounding hooves of Pharaoh’s army swooping in behind you, clutch your trembling child in your arms, and wonder if you will survive this moment. Experience the fear, the loss of your home, the terrible unknown before you, and be there.

The rabbis taught that by experiencing the emotions of a Biblical moment you were preparing your heart to meet the challenges of your life. If you could see yourself as present in a Biblical event and think of how you would have reacted than you would be better prepared to live out your faith in this time. I mean after all once you live through the conquest of Canaan suddenly rush hour doesn’t seem so bad.

The point is you have to take the time to think about what you are reading it. If you are just plowing through it because it is the right thing to do, it is going to become meaningless pretty quick. We aren’t engaging in relationship, we are being superstitious, and we are missing the whole point.

In our goal driven society these approaches feel rather strange at first – like we goofing off or day dreaming when we should be studying. Well, here’s the good news, God is not a geometry problem we have to figure out. The test is not going to be whether or not you can work the formula. It is going to be over whether or not you have a relationship with Him, and in relationship we have the opportunity to know someone, not dissect them.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Putting it all together – Part 10 Eliza Doolittle and Fading Posies

Picture this.

One day you are out selling posies on the streets of London. You have learned how to pick the right mark, you can judge the just the right moment, even know how and when to apply the right pressure. When to use tears, when to give an insult, when to feign the proper amount of arrogance. You know you are good at what you do, and you have provided a good living for yourself, comparatively speaking. You even a have a dream, to sell flowers in a real store. You know it is farfetched and everyone thinks you are daft just for entertaining the idea.

Then one day this man comes along who tells you that he can open up worlds of opportunities you could never even image – if you learn how to use your words. At first his words throw you for a loop, you decide he must be the crazy one, but there is something inside of you says you were meant for more than walking the gutters selling wilting flowers to the people who have the type of life you would kill for. You are caught, you have to find out if what he says is true, so you find him commit yourself to his tutelage – as bizarre as it may seem. You fight your way through the frustration, and learn how to do what he says, and like everything else in your life you do it well.

As proof of your success he passes you off as nobility at party for the queen, and you realize how much you really have changed. No more extra “r’s” in your words, you know the topics to avoid in proper society, and how to hold your head just so. Now what?

All along you have known your were just pretending to be something and someone you are not. He knew, but somehow you fooled everyone else, even the experts. So do you return to the streets to sell flowers, do you settle for the flower shop on the corner? Can you, now that you know what it is to be a part of the new and fascinating world? Or are your once wildest dreams faded and worn now that you have seen how truly small they are?

Some of you have already guessed that this was the basic plot to My Fair Lady, but I think it is more than just some story from a movie. Maybe that is why it continues to be so popular.

In some ways we are all nothing but Eliza Doolittle’s, we have safe attainable dreams. Dreams that other people may question, but ones we know we can do. There is something inside of us that knows the status quo isn’t for us. So we dream, but one day this guy comes along and suggests something that you never would have considered. And he is so sure of himself, you find yourself believing.

Only in this story it isn’t a professor, it is God. He walks into our world and turns it upside down. He demands things of us that make no sense. He tells us that we can do extraordinary things with our lives and we get caught up in his vision. The thing is most of us feel like Eliza, pretending to be something we are not, wondering when we will get caught, and kicked out of the private club – maybe even hoping to get caught just so we can stop pretending.

But then there is the moment of truth, when you try to leave the dream behind. You go back to your old haunts and realize no one recognizes you. To sell flowers now would be just as big of a sham as passing you off as a duchess. You find that no longer do you dream the dream, but the dream has dreamed you.

So you are left with the dilemma, where do you belong now? Are some strange little homeless oddity? Are you better than you were, or worse? Was ignorance bliss and now you are being crushed by the weight of a dream you never asked for?

God’s dreams are always greater than anything we could design for ourselves. The problem is there is always this moment, which sometimes last for years, where you realize you don’t really have a place where you fit. You can’t go back to who you were before the dream, you have seen too much, but you don’t know how to be who you want to be.

Luckily for us, God doesn’t need to dance in an alley and sing “I’ve grown accustom to her face,” before he realizes he has no intention of returning us to the streets. He has known all along he took us home to keep. He gave us a dream that is not a fiction designed for his amusement. All the hard work wasn’t so he could perpetuate a scam. He did not fall in love with us accidently somewhere along the way, nor was he taken by surprise by us.

The only one surprised by the escapade is us. We wake up to find that we are changing, and what felt false and fake in the beginning is really who were all along. It can scare us to know that a dream has the power to shape us, rebuild us, and make us stronger, faster, and better. God has the technology. The question is do we let the fear drive us back to the gutters or do we have faith in the God who has revealed to us a plan that far exceeded anything we ever imagined.

If you can survive that moment, if you can get past the feeling of dangling in space, you can make it, but I won’t lie to you. It is scarier than anything you have ever faced. Nothing feels natural, nothing feels safe, and your skin sometimes feels like it was made for someone else. But the truth is once you surrender to the dream, you can live nowhere else.

Tis the Season

Tis the Season
This time of year we are hearing the story of Jesus’ birth everywhere we turn. It is told sweetly, portrayed by our children in their bathrobes, and if we are really adventurous we might even parade a few live animals into the church. It is good that we remember, but I have to wonder if we ever look beyond the pretty pageants and cantatas to remember the story as Luke told it.

Luke opens the Nativity story in chapter two with the words, “In those days.” An announcement to his readers that something significant was about to happen, a sacred point in time that would give meaning to everything that would follow. It was a key phrase in Jewish writing, requiring no explanation and full of promise.

“A decree went out from Caesar Augustus” the Caesar who was described in Myrian inscription as “Divine Augustus Caesar, son of god, imperator of the land and sea, the benefactor and savior of the whole world.” He was also defined as the “divine savior who brought peace to this world.” Luke was deliberately reminding his readers of claims of the Roman nobility, setting the stage for the upset.

We know that Mary and Joseph had to register for the census, what most of us don’t know is that this was the time when the people had to avow allegiance to the Roman emperors. The census was a sharp reminder the people of God were in bondage to a foreign power, but amazingly even the machinations of Roman served the purpose of God to bring Mary to the place where the Messiah was to be born. The fulfillment of Micah 5:2.

Luke reminds his readers that Joseph is of the House of David, of royal blood. He setting us up, because the famous shepherd king would vindicated on this night. His people who had been subjected to oppression and blasphemous rulers would see the God’s glory was not be confined to singular place, his people would hear the victory of their God proclaimed as they followed in David’s footsteps tending the sheep.

The angels would cry, “Glory to God in the highest, and on the earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” The titles of Savior, God, and Prince of Peace would be stripped from the one who arrogantly claimed them as his own, and now bestowed upon a baby lying in a manger. The angels would declare the “Good News”, the εύαγγελιον , a term the Greeks used to declare victory in battle, but Isaiah tells us announces the arrival of God Himself.

The world would be turned upside down forever. God is here. There has been victory in the battle.

So for all who have ever endured the cold nights tending your sheep, doing the tasks required of us. For all us who experienced oppression, been subjected to people and things that would demand our allegiance, heard false promises of peace from those with no power to grant it, there is one comes in victory. There is a moment that gave meaning to all that would follow. Remember the angel’s song is for our ears.

Merry Christmas.

Stumbling over obstacles...again

Why is it Christians seem to have a hard time holding onto God's hand and believing in His loving care for us?  One day we have been granted a victory over a tough situation but then the next day presents an obstacle that seems to big to overcome.

We seem to immediately forget what God has done for us and brought us through.  We focus on the obstacle and begin worrying about "what if", "Should I have...", "how will I...".  We don't seem to remember scripture that promises God will take care of us.  The lilies of the field don't make clothing but God adorns them with splendid covering.  The sparrows don't plant seed or tend a garden but God provides them food.  Very simple but powerful examples of God taking care of His creation.

We were created by God from the dirt of the Earth.  We were formed from nothing and have been given a place of honor, in His creation, as overseers.  We are more important to God than the flowers or birds.  Therefore, we should take comfort that He will provide for us; it may not be fancy food, the latest fashion style, or a big house but our basic needs will be met.  For our part, we must remember to honor Him, thank Him for his provision, and testify to His care for us.  Anything less would be a disservice to Him and make us appear as ungrateful.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

You spent $5 million for what?!?!

Looking through my blogging notes, I found the following tidbit.....

In June 2008, Reuters reported Google co-founder Sergey Brin put a down payment of $5 million on a tourist space flight.  If one has that kind of money to waste, why not do something constructive with the money?  To whom much is given, much is required.

Several "projects" come to mind on which to spend money:
  Feed the hungry
  Clothe the cold
  Training the jobless
  Medicine for elderly

In my opinion, $5 million could be a tool to reach people, provide for their need, and minister to their soul.  But hey, I missed the Dot Com bubble by that much!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

From behind the pulpit

Does standing behind a pulpit make a message or sermon any more important or significant?  On a recent Sunday night, the youth minister did not preach from behind the pulpit.  He stood on the same level as the congregation.  His reason was: he was more comfortable speaking.

Jesus spoke to people where ever He found them or where they found Him.  Jesus' "pulpit" might have been a quiet garden or a small boat just off the coast.  The message was more important than where it was delivered.

The message should always be the most important thing.  Without the message, there is no possibility of change.  Without change, there is absolutely no possibility of salvation.  We must hear the message for it to have an affect on our life.

The pulpit is a piece of furniture that has absolutely no power to bring salvation to a person.  The pulpit is a tool: hold a Bible to be referenced, hold message notes to be easily seen.  A tool assists in completing the job being performed.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Has worship become a habit?

Sunday School at 9:30; Service at 10:45. Song service from 10:50 to 11:20; Message starts at 11:21.  Congregation is in their "assigned" seats every Sunday.  A three point message followed by an invitation.  Does this sound like your Sunday morning church experience?

Are we following a formula, week after week, for worship?  If the service is not in a specific order, have we not experienced worship?  If we don't sit in the same place, week after week, have we not had fellowship with God?

Familiarity does help one to feel comfortable.  Think about your favorite place to read a book.  What about enjoying food at your favorite restaurant?  Church should be a comfortable and familiar place.  In addition, it should serve a defense against the everyday battles we experience.  Old West travelers often found safety in the forts spread through the West.

How does one experience and/or find safety if everything is always the same?  As Christianity is a very personal experience so is worship.  Does sitting with the same group, week to week, in the same building mean you are worshipping?  What about Christian growth?  What about safety from the everyday battles?

After a worship service, do you feel re-equipped to fight the everyday battles?  Is your spiritual strength renewed?  What about your emotional strength?  Can you handle the day to day blows that life inflicts?

A worship service/experience should renew your spirit, re-equip you, re-build your emotional strength.  How this occurs is unique to each person.  Some will be renewed via the music; the music speaks deeply to their soul.  The music provides a balm to the hearer.  Others strengthen their belief by listening to the message.  The message addresses a need in their life.  The quietness of the auditorium before the service provides solace to others.  It allows them a quiet moment in their fast paced life to experience God.

The bottom line is Christian worship is not and should not be standardized.  Worship should provide for each person: a place to be ministered to, spiritually fed, emotionally renewed, re-equipped to fight the daily battles.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Putting it all Together – Part 9 Juggling on a Tightrope Or Things that Go Splat

Most people need to know the permission to dream big, I am generally not one of those people. I need to scale mine back more often than not, and it was hard to accept that world domination was not in my future. I love to dream. It is a beautiful activity where life looks like I want it to look, I can actually dance and people don’t laugh, and it is free. So this entry is for those of you who are like me, our dreams are big, bold, and completely beyond all realms of possibility.

The problem for me is once I have the kernel of a good idea, I have to improve on it. If having an event with fifty people is great, than we really want 350, and if setting up one event is exciting than planning twelve is amazing. And for some odd reason, it all seems completely possible in my mind, but what winds up happening is I over commit. I try to juggle too many balls while balancing on a tightrope and I am always surprised when I go splat.

At our first Pagus event, Barbie Jared (who is now one of our speakers, check her out), told me, “Don’t despise small beginnings.” We had way over planned and as a result spent more money than necessary to be prepared for people who did not show up. It was disheartening. We had prayed about this, and we truly believed that this was something God intended for us to do. And it was, we learned a lot but I wish the price of education wasn’t quite so high.

Barbie and I really did not know each other that well at the time. We had grown up together, but had never really been close friends. (She is significantly older than me.) Over the years she had gone on to do her thing and I had done mine. What we did not know was that within a very short time after the conference, she and I would be pursuing our dreams together. Now I get to remind her, “Don’t despise small beginnings.” Got to love that.

The point to this part of the story is I needed someone to remind me that we all start somewhere, and like or not, it is usually small from our perspectives. It is the conference with thirty people and a hundred empty seats. It is Bible study in our living rooms, the painting that sells for $2o, the two talents, and the mustard seed. The small stuff that has been entrusted to us. So what are we going to do with it?

Do we lament the fact that this wasn’t as quick and easy as we thought it should be? Do grow tired and bitter with the years of tending a dream often demands to survive? Do we rail against the mustard seed for not being Jack’s magic beans? Or do we find a way to celebrate the small beginnings, grateful for a chance to be part of the process? Humbled by the fact you were given a gift to start with?

These small beginnings have all the elements within them for great things. We just have to be faithful and attentive to their needs. When we over commit or allow other ideas to overshadow the original vision we stretch ourselves way too thin and we will soon find we do not have the resource to care for anything properly. It is not to say that the other ideas aren’t good or worth pursuing, but we need to guard the vision. Often a good idea is simply a distraction in disguise.

Dream and dream big. Let your mind go there every so often, but never lose sight of the original vision. The vision may grow and morph, but ask yourself “Does this fit with what I have been called to do?”, “Does this move me any closer to the ultimate goal?” or “Does this move resources like time, money, and energy away from my primary calling?”

In order to know the answers to these questions, we have to know what the dream is to begin with. We have to have its borders defined. We have to know what it looks like, feels like, and smells like if we are to remain on course. Write it down, give your dreams some tangibility. In fact, you should really have two sets of writings. One with your dream clearly defined. The dream you know you are suppose to chase, the one you want to be remembered for in your obituary. The second writing should be all the good ideas that float your way. The things that you would do if you never needed to sleep, had unlimited funds, and an army to implement them.

The first one is your northern star, showing you how not be pulled of course by unruly winds and choppy waves. The second is the place where good ideas can be born, some to be used to fulfill your dream, some to be discarded, and some to be given over to other people to pursue.

The thing is about a tightrope, we are supposed to walk across them not simply stop in the middle to do another performance. The goal is much like the chicken’s – to get to the other side. If we stand out there too long, no matter how great our juggling is, or however entertaining we might be, we all wind up going splat. It’s that forward moment that help us stay balanced, don’t lose it.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Putting it all Together - Part 8 No Smoking, please. Or “What if we are all God’s dream and He wakes up?”

Putting a dream in to motion is not something you can do all by yourself. Even Joan of Arc had to recruit a few troops. Convincing people that you really are following a God given vision isn’t always easy. I mean not to be harsh, but most people have never really struck out to do something bold and audacious in order to be who they want to be. Most people are content to look around, find the expected and easy path for their lives, and stick to it.

So when you come along and declare, “Follow me and France will have victory”, people tend to think you are psych case. The truth is if you chose to give life to your dreams, you are not normal, and that’s a scary thing for our friends and family to face. This why it is often hardest to tell the ones you love about this personal vision. We know that they know all our flaws, our stupid mistakes, and all the reasons we aren’t qualified to do this.

I wish I could tell you to be bold and all will end well, but as we all know even Joanie’s world got a little heated due to her boldness. But way before that she had people who believed in her, who followed her, people who used their power and connections to help her pursue her vision. My question is do you have the audacity to demand to be heard in the courts of the king? Are you that passionate about your quest? Or are you content to stay home and whisper it to the chickens? If there is a stake in your future are willing to face it, content in the knowledge that you did everything possible to make it happen?

You have to tell people about your dreams. You have to be willing to face the skeptical faces, questions full of doubt, and you have to be bold. It means talking to everyone, and I do mean everyone, about what you intend to do. You tell your friends, your family, and the stranger at McDonald's because people are the key to seeing the dream take flesh.

One of the truly amazing things I have discovered is that God has way of bringing the right people into your life, if you are looking for them. Consistently he has placed people in our path who have a talent or ability that we needed to make a certain aspect of Pagus happen, and often the people we thought would be the ones to fill these roles are the first ones who run screaming to the hills.

I cannot over emphasize this point. It feels awkward, even arrogant, to go around telling people that you are capable of doing something as awesome as fulfilling this dream, but you have to find the words to share that vision. You have to find a way to make others see this dream as a reality. They have to have something to believe in and since you were the one entrusted with this vision that job is yours.

In some ways this is the most fun part of all of this. You get to share your vision, your hope, and somehow in just speaking the words it becomes even more of a reality through just saying it aloud. You can get so caught up in describing the dream that you can forget you have an audience, and in those moments people find your passion contagious.

In other ways, it is the most difficult. I still find myself stuttering through a simple presentation I have given over and over again when I am introducing myself and Pagus to a new audience. I start filling the blanks of a conversation with what I imagine that other person must be thinking about me. I interpret their questioning looks as amused dismissal of me and my ideas. So when I say, you have to break that habit, know I am speaking from a place of experience and not throwing any stones.

Some could argue that Joan of Arc was terrible failure. I mean after all, all most of us really know about her is that she burned at the stake, but the point is hundreds of years later, we know her. We remember her, and I would have to say that is a victory. I hope yours and my dreams have happier endings, but if we are remembered, if following our dreams is noteworthy in history, isn’t that some sort of victory? Think about it, one nobody country girl from Nowheresville, France changed a nation just because she was willing to follow her dream, to speak passionately about the things she believed God called her to do.

The Bible says the power of life and death are in the tongue, and nowhere is this more evident than in the lives of our dreams. How else to do they come to life unless we give it to them through our words?

When my youngest daughter was four, she asked “What if we all just God’s dream and He wakes up?” After I recovered from my aneurysm, I realized the truth of what she was asking. God is by no means asleep, but even you and I are his dream, one he gave life to through his words. Think about it, what if he had never spoke up?

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Questions – The Scary Answers

The fourth question people ask us is “What church are you with?”

Pagus itself is not with a particular church but the individual members are active within their respective bodies.

We have had several amazing churches that have been incredibly supportive of what we are doing. These churches have donated facilities, technology, or one of the many other things we need to make this happen.

The decision not to be officially affiliated with one particular church was intentional. We never wanted anyone to say, “I can’t go to that because it is for the members of that particular church.” Our events are designed to be as inclusive as possible while not compromising our responsibility to present the Word with integrity.

The decision to remain autonomous, in some respects, was a scary one. It meant that people cannot quickly or comfortably label who we are, and for that reason some chose not participate in Pagus events. However, I would encourage anyone who would like to know more about our core beliefs to contact us. We would be happy to answer any questions you might have, but allow me to address some of the basics.

We believe in God the Father, Creator and Sustainer of the Earth. We believe that Jesus is the preexistent Son and was a man born of a virgin 2000 years ago, and through the power of his life, death, and resurrection he freed us from the power of sin and death. We believe that the Holy Spirit resides within and empowers all who have accepted the free gift of salvation, and the Church is the expression of his continued power to transform lives. The Bible is the Holy and divinely inspired word of God, the revelation of his heart and character to his body. It teaches, comforts, convicts, and surprises all who study it. And Jesus is coming again to claim his bride.

Really, I should probably just insert the Apostle’s Creed here, but I think you get the idea.

The fifth question usually goes like this-

“If you are not under the authority of church leadership, who keeps you accountable?”
Well, while Pagus is not officially accountable to any one church, it does not mean there is no accountability. First and foremost, we are accountable to each other. We all seek the counsel of the others to confess our sins, struggles, and fears. If we have a doubt on a particular teaching, we talk it out, look it up, and research it.

In fact, hours each week are spent in individual study and discussion over everything we present. Most of the teachings are the result of years of study and experience. Nathan and I pace the floor while having marathon phone conversations about upcoming events, Barbie texts me with really odd Bible questions, and we constantly ask each other – “Where is that in scripture?”

It is difficult to find the words that convey how acutely aware each member of the team is of this terrible and amazing responsibility without sounding arrogant. The weight of it shakes us to the core, and every so often we find that one of us is asking “Who am I that I should do this?”, “Am I qualified?”, or “What if I mess this up?” These are good questions to ask, and we remind ourselves that God once used a donkey, so . . .

Added to this, we have many friends who devoted their lives to ministry, or simply lived lives that have demonstrated a maturity of faith. We use them shamelessly, and we rely on their wisdom and discernment to help keep us on track.

The sixth question –

“Why don’t you just start a church?”

Not even an option. I am tempted to say never will be an option, but you know how God and that whole “never” thing goes. Many a person has woke up in Zimbabwe because they had the audacity to say, “God, I will do anything, but I will never go to Zimbabwe.” And poof, the next week God calls them to the mission fields in Zimbabwe.
The thing about starting a church is usually all we do is reshuffle Christians to a new building. We really don’t want to do that, but we can help equip the church. Our desire is to teach, encourage, and facilitate. We don’t have to have a church to do that.

By offering events that open to many different churches, it gives members of different congregations a chance to share ideas, discuss their differences, learn from each other, and just maybe help us become more unified by our shared relationship with God – instead of by what building we sit in on Sunday morning. And my Bible leaves me with the impression that the whole unity thing is pretty important to God.

Obviously, this is just the cliff notes on these issues, and the answers are deeper than can be expressed in a few paragraphs. The only real way to know who we are and why we do what we do is to get to know us. Come to an event, email us, look us up on Facebook, or even call. We are always happy to talk about Pagus, God, our faith, - come to think of it, most of us will talk to just about anyone about anything.

Blessed are the pure in heart.

While trying to find a church to attend my wife and I have started meeting with some friends once a week to study the book of Matthew. This is to serve the purpose of keeping us in regular contact with our Christian friends as well as keeping me from going crazy from lack of Theological discussion. This time has been a great help for me, keeping me reading the Bible, and really giving me an opportunity to dig into the things Christ taught. Last week we went through the Beatitudes.

One that really jumped out at me was "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God."

In a lot of churches I have attended the common teaching on this verse goes something like this: "If we are really serious about our faith and trying to keep sin out of our lives we will be taken to heaven where God lives." Now I am a big fan of not going to hell, but I think that Jesus had more in mind than just, "Go to church every Sunday and get a free pass to glory."

When we look at the whole of the Beatitudes we see a phrase that happens twice: "For theirs is the kingdom of Heaven." Often times when talking about the Kingdom, Jesus and other biblical figures are not just talking about what happens after we die. They are referring to bringing the kingdom forth. Dr Brad Young would say the better translation would be: "Out of these I will bring forth the kingdom of Heaven." Jesus says this about two groups of individuals one being the poor in spirit, and the others are those that are persecuted for the sake of righteousness.

Not to discount any of the the other Beatitudes, but I feel as though these three specifically tie together. If we look at what it means to be poor in spirit, it really means morally bankrupt. (Stay with me.) What Jesus is saying is not to make attempts to become poor in spirit. What he is saying is Blessed are the poor in spirit, God is going to redeem you, and out of you I will bring forth the Kingdom of Heaven. He goes on to talk about the mourners, the meek, and those who hunger thirst for righteousness. These are the places that God is willing to go to save us. He is willing to chase after us when we are at a low, when we don't have it all together, when we know that something is wrong with the world around us.

When he mentions blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, the idea of righteousness in the Jewish mindset is acts of love and kindness. We hear this verse and we think about all the mean people that won't let us into the water cooler gossip, because we as Christians make them feel awkward. Let's look at who was being persecuted for their Theology and by who.

Jesus and John the Baptist were both being sneered at be the religious leaders for their acts of love and kindness toward sinners, the socially, and religiously unfit. I think Jesus is saying sometimes when we follow God into other peoples dark places so He can meet them there, our religious friends might fail to understand. They might think we have abandon our faith, and that we are living more dangerously than a Christian should.

Which brings me back to the pure in heart. I believe Jesus was trying to tell us something super important here. Have you ever been around people that see nothing but the bad things in life? No matter what you say it gets twisted and distorted. This I believe is what happens when you clothe your hear in unclean things. Jesus says, "Out of the abundance to the heart the mouth speaks." I believe Jesus is trying to tell us that as we draw near to God we become more like Him. As we become more like him we begin to see God at work around us. Not only do we see God at work, but we see Christ in others, in the least of all of us we see Him. Not only do we see Him, but we see their poorness of spirit as a cry for help, and we become willing to go to their dark places so they can meet God no matter what our proper religious friends have to say about it.

He looked like what?

I recently overheard a heated discussion about what Jesus looked like.  One person's argument was the Bible did not describe Jesus.  This is a true statement.  The Bible does tell His lineage and where He lived His life.  Therefore, we should be able to assume His appearance based on these facts.

But is Jesus' appearance as important as his life and purpose?  Should His looks have any affect on our response to His message?  Is salvation based on His hair being a certain color or style?  Is our relationship with Jesus' formed and nurtured due to the clothes He wore?

A person's appearance does not have any bearing on salvation or one's relationship with Christ.  Jesus did not care about people's dress, lineage, or history.  Jesus saw people's spiritual need instead of their need for new clothes or a haircut.  Jesus knew a person's physical and spiritual needs would be met when they accepted Christ.

In today's society, looks, beauty, and wealth seem to indicate one's worth in society.  Jesus uses none of these to determine a person's worth.  His message is everyone is of worth as God's creation and is worthy of being saved.

Monday, December 14, 2009

What is worship?

Recently I had a "church" experience that caused me to think "What is Worship?".  A church member was going to play an offertory on the piano with an accompaniment CD and words displayed on the video screen.  When it was mentioned it might not be possible to have the words displayed, the piano player said, "I just want a worship experience".  My thought was: "I guess before there were video screens and accompaniment CDs, no worship experience was possible".

In light of this experience, I believe my question is significant: What is Worship?  To have a worship experience, is it required to have video screens, CD tracks, computers and other 21st century equipment?  Can worship be achieved with only a Bible?  What about without a Bible?

As with salvation, worship is a uniquely personal experience.  The word seems to have become a punitive delimiter to determine if a believer has experienced God during a church service - "If you didn't have a worship experience, you didn't experience God today". 

Worship is a very broad, expansive term that each person must define and experience for themselves.  Worship may be experienced alone, in a small group or a large congregation.  Worship is encountering God where you are and having a personal interaction with God.

Worship can be as simple as experiencing a dramatic sunset "painted" by the Creator.  A song that captures your Christian experience can lead to worship.  Worship can be following Christ's lead to minister to non-believers in need. 

As with attempting to define God, it is not easy to put a boundary around worship.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Lessons learned from rounding up cattle

My Long Term Spouse (LTS), myself and her brother have a small herd of cows.  Recently, we needed to round them up.  Our cows are pampered - hay when the temperature drops and feed pellets fed by hand.  We can easily round them up just by calling them and shaking a feed bucket filled with pellets.

The herd easily went into the pen where the pellets were plentiful.  One older, stubborn cow refused to come into the corral.  I shut the gate on the other cows, who were busy eating, but didn't chain the gate closed and turned my attention to the stubborn cow.  One of the cows in the corral decided she was full and it was time to stage a jail break.  She headed toward the closed, unchained gate and pushed the gate open.  The jail breaker charged into the open pasture with 2 additional escapees following her.

At times are we not like the escaped cows?  God provides a roof over our heads and food on our table but we want what is on the other side of the gate.  We see a gap and we charge through the gate forgetting what God has provided.  We want to see what we can find, experience, or do for ourselves.

Just as we had to round up the escapees, God rounds us up and returns us to the safety and comfort of the corral.  God does not punish us but allows us to learn from our mistakes.  I'm glad I have a God who lovingly seeks me out, provides safety and allows me to learn from my "bull headedness".

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Hello, my name is Lionel

My LTS (Long Term Spouse) and I enjoy watching the British Comedy "As Time Goes By".  The show contains basic relationship and family comedy; no smutty jokes or innuendos.  The main characters, Lionel and Jean are an older couple who are each single after losing a spouse due to divorce and death.  They previously had dated just before Lionel left for the Korean War.  They are re-united by accident and date for several months before marrying.

While recently watching an episode, the interaction between Jean and Lionel caused me to ask my LTS why we so enjoyed the show.  Her reply startled me: "Maybe we are a tad like Jean and Lionel".

Where is this crazy blogger going with this and how does this apply to the Christian life?  Let me see if I can bridge the two spheres together.  My LTS and I identify with the characters of Jean and Lionel because of their actions and reactions to life.  They may have had bad things happen in their life, but it has not prevented them from enjoying the events occurring now.

Should Christians be identifiable by their character and behavior?  How about their action and reaction when life occurs and the result-of-bovine-digestion hits the fan?  Does the world identify us as Christians when life happens?  Do we try, on a daily basis, to be seen as being a tad like Jesus?

There are days I have to answer a definite no to being identifiable as a Christian.  The "stuff" has hit the fan and I don't feel very Christ-like.  At times like these I';m very thankful to have One who can wipe off the "stuff" and help me to remember to be identified with Christ.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Tinted car windows and Christianity

Walking out of the church, this past Sunday, I noticed a vehicle parked close to the door.  I knew someone was in the vehicle since the engine was running.  I could not see who was in the vehicle since the windows were heavily tinted.  This caused an off-the-wall thought to pop into my head - Can the world "see" who is inside you?  Or do you have tinting that prevents people from seeing "inside" of you?

As Christians, we should be transparent to allow people to see Jesus within us.  Making Christ visible to the world should be important to us since we are "little Christs".  During the First Century, Christians could be easily identified based on their behavior towards one another and to the people around them.  Can we, in the 21st Century, be as easily identified?

Is it possible that instead of being tinted, Christians have become like a dirty car window?  Has living in the world caused dirt, grime and bug splatters to block the view of the Christ within us?  Have we been diligent to daily wash our "window" with pray, Bible reading, and fellowship with Christ?

I have been guilty of not daily washing my "window".  Waking up and not laying there to thank God that I awoke to a new day; asking for His help with my day-to-day activities; praying for others instead of being self-centered in my prayers.  Asking God to allow me to act such that I am identifiable as a Christian.  At the very least, allow my actions to cause someone to wonder the reason for my non-worldly behavior.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Putting It All Together – Part 7 Five Easy Steps to Financial Ruin, and Why We Took Them

I really don’t like this topic, so don’t expect too many entries on this one. It seems like all the conversations about it are a lament on how I just don’t have enough. Yep, you guessed it – money.

As I am sure most of you have figured out by now, money is a big deal. We have to have it if we are going to finance our dreams, visions, or survival, but the truth is we often make it a bigger deal than it has to be. Now, don’t get me wrong. I believe we need to be good stewards of our finances, but I don’t think that means we have to obsess over them. And if you figure out how to achieve that balance, let me know.

I think sometimes we put off our dreams until we can afford them, but dreams are like children. If you wait until you can afford them you will never have them. The people who have both are usually the ones who found themselves in the position of simply being told one day they had better gear up, adventure ahead. Now to paraphrase Louis L’Amour, adventure is the romantic name we give hardship when it happens to someone else.

And that what this is – hardship, tough times, big and scary moments, and the most fearsome beast you may ever face. But hey, no monsters, no monster slayers. Right?
Oh, I was talking about money.

I wish that I could tell you to command money to come to you through faith, that a certain prayer prayed three times a day, or even that a special internet offer would guarantee you financial success so that you can pursue your dream. I can tell you that if you will mail $2.50 to Emily Underwood-King, I will send you the instructions on how to get five fools to send you $2.50. Barring that I have no great get rich quick schemes, at least none that are legal.

I wish I could tell you that if you just follow your heart God will let a distant rich uncle who had fond memories of you as baby die off and leave his giant oil fortune to you, but if you are like me, all of your relatives are broke and probably don’t even like you that much.

So let me give it to you straight. If your dream is really that important to you, you will invest –everything. Your time, money, energy, blood, sweat, and tears all go into it. You begin saying no to that great pair of Italian heels- even if they are on sale, and know that that money represents one printing of fliers and posters or three days of Facebook ads. You do without the chocolates, even if they are just M&M’s because that is the cost of new ink pens.

There will be times when you take a leap, schedule something, commit to something, and then pray, “Dear God, how are we ever going to afford it?”, but you do it anyway because something in your gut tells you it is the right thing to do. You become creative, learning what sort of things you really do need, and things you just want. Believe it or not you can survive without cable, internet access in your home, and Starbucks. Ramen Noodles aren’t all that bad and Folgers can be an acquired taste.

You figure out how to pace yourself – translation, you only do things as you can afford it. We have all sorts of blow your mind ideas, but we are still waiting to make enough money to bring them to you. We have had to learn how to resist the urge to do everything at once, simply because the money is not there, and I don’t think it has been a bad thing.

Now don’t go and be stupid, because I know someone out there is trying to break this down into three easy steps. Let me save you some work.

1.Put everything you have into your dream.
2.Sacrifice all comforts in life.
3.Over commit yourself financially.
4.Pray God will show up.
5.Pace yourself.

There are five easy steps, and if you do them in this order, you are almost assured of filing bankruptcy in no time. Let me repeat, don’t do it this way! If you do then the list will ultimately look like this –

1.Delusions of grandeur
2.Martyr syndrome
3.Manic spending
4.Vain attempts to manipulate God.

So if this isn’t how to do it, why admit to this is how we did it? Because this is what we felt led to do. We spent a lot of time in prayer and preparation for this, and this time it worked. Maybe next time we will do something completely different. It is called walking in faith for a reason, there are no fool proof formulas. Formulas mean you control the outcome, but God isn’t in to that. In fact, He’s pretty big on being the one in charge of things, even the money.

And who knows, maybe next time, some forgotten rich uncle will leave me fortune. You never can predict what God will do.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Putting It All Together – Part 6 Giving out and Giving Up

There are days when you don’t want to do this. Days when nothing seems to flow and all the little details overwhelm you. You are standing at the edge of a cliff and you are not for sure if you are jumping or if you are being shoved.

There are bills to pay, mailings to do, people to meet, and so many other things that keep you from focusing on the dream before you. Inevitably this is when someone in the family has a medical crisis, the car breaks down, or the dog dies. All you can think about is how much easier it would be if you had a real job, a boss to blame, and a regular pay check.

If you think that you will never have this day, you are lying to yourself. There is no way around it, and you need to be mentally prepared for it. This why you need that group of supporting loving people around you. You need to talk it out, remember why you chose this road, and keep dreaming together. It is what keeps the dream alive. I truly believe this is a central part to overcoming the enemy by the word of your testimony.

We seldom think of telling speaking our dreams out loud as part of our testimony. We think about our testimony as something that is done, not something that we have yet to see materialize, but the dream within you is a major part of you who you are and becomes the blueprint for the testimony you want to have.

Honestly, today was one of those days for me. I did not want to do all the things I know I need to do. I wanted to crawl back into bed and forget about all the stuff that requires my attention. It was so hard. So hard that I really did not accomplish much of what I intended to do today. And at the end of the day, I had to deal with the feeling of being a complete failure.

I wanted to give up and questioned why I do this. Sometimes there are ways to rekindle that excitement. I practice my presentation to an empty living room, give myself permission to read a book or watch television for a while, or simply to sit and dream about how it is going to feel when I finally get to do what I have been preparing to do.

Other times, forget nothing is going to work and you just have to wait it out. At these times, I have to step back and cut myself some slack. I try to put a time frame on it, a day or a few hours, or the next thing you know you have taken up residence in the land of “What might have been.” It is easy to become exhausted and your thoughts become muddled. Decision making abilities fly out the window, and it can affect your whole endeavor. If you can take a short break, do it. If not, go back to the original plan and make sure everything you decide is based on it, and not some by product of an emotional breakdown.

I survived the day, and the progress can only be measured in inches and not miles, but it was progress. I figure that if I don’t give up than I can’t fail. There is no finish line for our endeavors only mile markers that show how far we’ve come. I know there will never be a day when I can wipe my hands and say “There we did it.” The best I can hope for is a chance to ask “So what’s next?” And if I am I am lucky it will be something else equally impossible, and entirely too ambitious. I look forward to it really, because I have found that God is usually somewhere out there in the impossible and that’s the best place to be.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Putting It All Together – Part 5 The Hills of Sparta

Putting your dream out there is a lot like leaving a baby exposed on the hillsides of ancient Sparta. If the child is fortunate some compassionate soul will come and save it from impending doom, if not it simply dies of exposure.

Unfortunately, many times dreams do die of exposure, and we wonder why we did not just keep them to ourselves. It was easier before we told everyone what we hoped to achieve, before they started telling us why we should not try doing something so audacious as teach people about God, or think that we are something special. We begin to doubt the wisdom of revealing this fragile piece of ourselves to the world, and we decide to stick to something less daring, less painful.

In the last entry, I talked about the team of people who have invested in this dream called Pagus, and I know that some of you are wondering how we managed to get so much help, why our dream wasn’t rejected or allowed to die of exposure. There are two reasons –

The first is we worked our fannies off for years before we asked people to take part in this. We demonstrated that we were willing to put in the time, effort, money, and energy to make it happen way before we ever approached another person to help. As I said before, I went to school and Nathan went to work with a church plant in Norman, and it was not quick or easy. We did not take short cuts in establishing our identity as people who were dedicated to pursuing our dreams. We actively demonstrated that we believed in the dreams God entrusted to us, we valued this vision, and were willing to make the hard choices to make the dream a reality.

When we discovered that we needed a tool or skill we did not possess, one of us learned how to do it. Nathan who had no prior experience designing a website, asked for some help from our uncle and learned as they put it together. When we need fliers, I read design and advertising books to find out how to create an eye catching mailing. We networked like crazy, calling people we had not seen in years, mere acquaintances, and even accosting strangers. We found that our years in retail sales jobs had prepared us to talk to anyone at anytime about this thing called Pagus.

People saw how hard we worked and were intrigued with our passion. We began to get little bits of encouragement that turned into full on curiosity, and finally became “Hey, what can I do to help?”

As each new piece fell into place we would get more and more excited. And the more excited we became the more we talked about it. I think I told five total strangers the day I opened our Pagus checking account – We have a debit card that says Pagus! Really, I did not announce my daughters’ births with such glee, and when we got the first run of fliers. . .rarely in my life have I experienced such bliss. Years of work and sacrifice were beginning to reveal their purpose. It was amazing! It still is, and when you are this thrilled about anything, people tend to listen. They want something to be excited about, and there are not enough real things for people to get excited over.

People wanted to be a part, and out of the goodness of our hearts we let them. And we had something, and someone else to be excited about. So we began to talk more to more people, and . . .

The second thing is we were very intentional from the very beginning that we wanted everyone’s experience with Pagus to positive. Not just for those who attend a Pagus event or those who work with Pagus, everyone. This means if we go to a restaurant and we pay for a dinner on the Pagus account – the servers should be tipped well. When we have an event, we want all the coordinators from that venue to be happy to work with us. We want them to want us to come back.

We want people to know that we are different from other groups they may have worked with in the past, and as we have both worked in service industries we realize that many times the easiest way to separate yourself from the crowd is to show some courtesy. I know it sounds way too simple, but it is the truth. Smile at the sales person, talk to the clerk like they are person, offer to wait when there is a rush, and voila, you are an instant celebrity.

I feel the need to clarify one point. We did not make this decision to manipulative. We made it as people who have been that server in the restaurant, the barista in the coffee shop, or the clerk at the store, and too often the rudest people we dealt with were angry Christians. We made this decision to remind ourselves that we never wanted to be like that. We wanted to be who the Bible declares we should be, it is amazing how well it works.

When you couple enthusiasm with some grace people are thrilled to be a part of what you are doing. In world where Christians are so easily identified by what they are against or angry about people are dying for chance to be a part of something meaningful , a part of something that is for a greater cause. And when you are chasing a God given dream these things should be defining elements of our lives.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Putting It All Together – Part 4 Passports and Puffins on the Pagus

In case you haven’t realized it yet, dreams are big deal to us at Pagus. My dream, your dream, and the dreams we get to dream together.

Several years ago, I was trying to find just the right Christmas gift for Nathan. Now we grew up in a family where getting gifts usually meant buying something practical or needed for a person, and I tended to follow that rule. After all, can a person really ever have too many socks or too much underwear?

This year, however, was different. I kept thinking I needed to by him a leather passport cover. I tried to talk myself out of it. It seemed like such a frivolous waste of money when we were both struggling to get by, but nothing else seemed to be the right thing. As I drove to Tulsa to fight the holiday crowds, I kept thinking how foolish I was being wasting a whole day to get a cover for a passport he did not have, for a trip he would not be able to take anytime soon. It was really beginning to bother me that something in me refused to yield the idea to commonsense.

I kept asking myself why it was so important for me to get him something so pointless, so worthless to our present reality. Somewhere on that drive I found the answer. I won’t say that God spoke to me, there were no burning bushes, clouds did not part, no audible voice shook the world, but it was like all the little pieces of
everything I knew fell into place.

That year had been really tough on us. If I remember correctly we had both lost romantic relationships, and were feeling rather lonely. We were both wondering if we had made the correct decisions – he was living far from home and I was single mom working her way through school. Money was almost nonexistent, and we just wanted something to make sense. The dreams were becoming obscured by reality.

Sometime about then we had begun to learn more about our family history, and became intrigued by our Irish ancestry. It seemed the more we learned about this people and land the more we understood ourselves. Many of the books we read would describe a particularly Irish trait and we would call each other and say “You know that thing you do. . . Well, this book says this about that.” The more we learned the more we wanted to go and see this place. We would talk about the day when we could go check out this pub, that castle or monastery, or the island where the puffins gather. And who can resist puffins? Really? They are like little cartoon characters God decided to bring to life just to make me smile.

But back to Nathan’s Christmas present. I realized that this year I wasn’t just buying him something everyone else thought he needed. I was buying him something I knew he needed. He needed to know that his dreams were important. He needed to know that someone else saw the value of his desire to go and see this land. Not because it practical in the conventional sense of the word, but because it is necessary in the truest sense of the word. And I do not know if I actually mean that the trip is necessary or if the gift is necessary.

Let me explain.

The truth is Nathan may never make it to Ireland, but that’s not the point. The point is we need someone to see our dreams and value them with us. We need people by our side who say I will make your dreams a priority to me. And we need to invest in the dreams of those we love, because our dreams are the truest part of who we are. They reveal our hearts and souls as nothing else can.

As Pagus had grown beyond just me and Nathan, we have found a group of people who believe in our dreams, who have chosen to value our vision. Some have chosen to walk with us because they believe in what we are doing. Others simply because they love Nathan and me. There are a few who have joined us because we have believed and invested in their dreams. And I believe it is safe to say, that for most of those who are now a part of Pagus it is a combination of all these factors.

We could not do without their help. We have people who work on the website, take photographs, check my layouts for typo’s, donate studio time, offer their homes for meetings, prepare meals for our gatherings, pass out fliers, make phone calls, do research, and listen to me rant. People whose talents fill in the gaps in ours, people who are more practically minded and keep us on track. I have one friend who randomly texts me good ideas for marketing – got to love that. Another one who gives me lime and chili almonds because she knows I will forget to eat, and still another who watches my kids so I have time to put things together.

And it is more than all the work we do or the things we give, we have begun to dream together. We have found the pieces of ourselves that might have been lost if someone else had not said this part of you is valuable and worthy of my investment. There is power in that, something indescribably freeing, and of infinite value. My dream does not work if theirs fail and something in their dreams will be lacking if I get left behind. We all need this.

It is not enough to dream in the dark. We have to expose them to light of day if they are ever to take a form. Find your team, find people who can value what you do, who you are, and people who you can trust with something as delicate and valuable as this piece of yourself. They are the ones who help you make it happen, and you do your best to make it happen for them. You will be surprised at how far you can go.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Putting It All Together – Part 3 Google searches and Noah

Okay, have you figured out what you do?


Then maybe you need to consider a second question. What do you want to do?
Remember the caveats from the first entry, and then let yourself dream. If you could do anything at all what would it be? What have you kept yourself from doing because you were worried it was too big, too costly, or too outrageous?

My head shrinker once asked me, “If you woke up tomorrow and God and performed a miracle in your sleep how would you know what he had done?” (Yes, I have a shrink, insanity at this level requires some coaching.) Knowing what the dream looks like is vital, or life becomes like a Google search – so many great and not so great options, so little time. Envision yourself there, figure out what it looks like, how
it feels and smells.

Once you know your dream, and you have recognized your gifts, you need to figure out how to make it happen. I like to work backwards. When we started with the idea of Pagus, we asked ourselves what would we change about our world? For us, we would be able to embrace both our artistic sides and our Christianity. These two realms often seem worlds apart, and as Christian artists we need both.

So we began looking at ways to bring these two parts of our lives together. We realized that we faced some serious obstacles. The first most artist do not feel like they fit or need religion, spirituality yes, religion no. The second obstacle was a lack of appreciation or understanding of the arts within Christianity. So that meant we need to be able to teach.

Okay, we wanted to teach, but to who and how?

We wanted to teach to artists. We wanted to reaffirm their position in the body, but we really did not know what the Bible taught on that. We had an idea based off our personal experience, but that is really shaky ground. We had some circumstantial evidence, but we felt like we needed something more solid still. We could envision some really great events – which we are still planning to do – to bring the church and the artist together, but it soon became apparent teaching the artists was not enough. We had to reinform the church about the forgotten artist.

Now things really got hairy, because it is all well and good to have a dream, but can you hang onto it when everyone says you are crazy? When no thinks it will work? Or accuses you of being too idealistic? Or do you simply say, “Well, God closed the door on that dream.”?

Let me tell you a story. There was once this guy named Noah, and he decided to build a boat. His neighbors ridiculed him, his kids complained about having to work on this thing with their weird dad, and I am sure his wife reminded him daily that he had lost it, but he went out every day for probably years and cut down another tree. And he saved a bunch of animals and all that were left of the human race. The end.

Doing the things that make your dream possible is easy, doing the dream is often difficult. We realized that if the church was ever going to hear what we had to say we needed to bring more to the table than “Hey, I have this great idea.” So we made a plan. I went to school and Nathan went to Norman, Oklahoma. For years we each worked at gathering the information and experience we needed to make our message credible. I got a degree in psychology and another in Biblical Literature (just a fancy way to say I read Hebrew and Greek). Nathan became a worship leader at a church plant and later moved to the Dallas area to work in another body.

Learning is easy for me. I was trained to absorb ideas by my parents. I love to read. I can write a killer paper, but three years of days that began at 5:30 a.m. and ended at midnight or later got old really fast, as did three hour round trip commute to school. It wasn’t easy.

Playing music is easy for Nathan, but things were no picnic for him when he left to go where God called him to prepare for Pagus. I won’t presume to tell his story, but there were times we both wondered why we were doing this. There were times the dream was obscured by circumstance, but once we had caught a glimpse of what was possible we knew we could not refuse to take the chance.

Ask yourself, what are you willing to lose for the sake of a dream? Sleep? Meals? Some self respect? The respect of others? Can you live with yourself if you didn’t try? That’s the dream to chase with everything you have in you, and when you run out of yourself and it still won’t leave you alone, you are probably on the right path.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Putting It All Together - Part 2 Just saying No at Church

You will find out pretty quick that we are not big on formulas at Pagus. We really don’t believe that God is as simple as any quick fix or easy cliché, no matter how pithy the titles of the books or how great the new programs out there are. Not to say aren’t things to be learned from other people’s observations, but we should never place another’s personal experience on the same level as Biblical principles. And the number one Biblical principle is God is relational, hence the whole Jesus thing. So I may repeat myself a few times on this, but it is worth remembering – no one else’s journey will look like yours or mine.

We learn from examples, and the enemy is overcome by the word of our testimony. However, we share our stories not to provide a cookie cutter or fool proof way to achieve your dreams, but as a way to encourage you to seek out how God would have you chase your dream. And right there is the problem, how do you know which dream you should chase?

Conventional church wisdom says we should use our abilities to address a need in the body, and I agree to an extent. The problem is this often boils down to you should volunteer for nursery duty, teach a Sunday school class, lead a small group, mow the church lawn, or give more money. Now, if any of these things truly match your gifting or you feel called and not coerced to do them by all means do. However, if this isn’t your cup of tea and you find that you only do them to avoid the guilt, I would suggest you reconsider your involvement.

Don’t expect this step to be easy. People will look at you as if you just lost your salvation when you smile and firmly but gently say, “No, I really do not feel that I need to be in the nursery.” For people such as me this is a gospel truth. If you want to see a miracle, just lock me in a room full of screaming three year olds, if we all come out alive then God has been busy. Suggest I work with teenagers and I am probably all in. I love their energy and I get their angst in a way I have found few adults do. I am completely baffled at the number of people who cringe over sponsoring on a youth trip, but will willingly submit themselves to four and five year olds. It just doesn’t make any sense.

The point is if we allow our “Christian duty” to be dictated by needs then we will just become embittered like Martha. (Luke 10:38-42). Of course, there are times when we should respond to a need, and we need to be sensitive to God’s prompting of when we should jump in and help and when we should refrain. What we need to remember there will always be needs, and someone will always need to address them. But believe it or not God’s a big God, and the needs of his people do not catch him by surprise. Sometimes an unaddressed need is God’s way of saying we need to rethink how we are doing things, but that is a whole other basket of fish. (Mark 6:30-43).

So if needs are not to dictate our calling, what is? I bet you did not catch that. We aren’t talking about callings, or are we? We were talking about dreams, God given ones, are they the same as a calling? They were for Joseph (Genesis 37) and few other guys in the Bible we could talk about. Dreams are the truest part of who we are, they speak about the things we hold the dearest, and the stuff God has hard wired into us. And some of us function so naturally in the gifts and the abilities that would make a dream possible that we don’t even recognize the dream as a possibility.

I never will forget when one of my professors who happened to be a former editor for a Christian publishing company who asked what I had written. I did not understand the question. I thought there was a problem with one of my papers. He had to explain to me that he wanted to know if I had written any books or articles. I think I stammered out a no, and he went on to explain to me that I should. He told me I could write and I could get paid for it. It was like someone was telling me I could get paid to breathe. The idea was ludicrous – at first.

I have written since I was twelve, but until that point only for class and in my journals. It is easy for me, like breathing. When people tell me they do not have a gift, I smile because these are the ones whose gifts are so innate that they do not even realize they are operating in them. Sometimes they are overlooked because they do not fit in our pretty church boxes. For years I thought I did not have any special gift, all because nothing I do comes into play in a traditional church setting. And I know I am not the only one.

So look closely at your life, what do you do so well that it is not an effort to do? What do you do so naturally that you do not even notice when you do it? Or maybe it takes some work but you just can’t not do it. Perhaps it is something artistic and creative, maybe people walk into your home and immediately feel welcomed, may be people just smile when they talk to you, or maybe you notice the little things others miss. The list can go on and on, but I think you get the idea. This can give you some pretty amazing clues as to what your hidden dream might be.

If you are still lost, go back to your friends – preferably the ones who did not let you lick the electric fly swat, and ask them. Why are they your friends? Do you have any qualities that inspire them? Have you ever taught them something? If they had to describe you in three words, what would they be? Figure out what you do, and eventually the dream will become clearer.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Putting It All Together - Part 1 Why I Can't Ice Skate or Don't Lick the Fly Swat

When we started Pagus, we started from scratch, and I do mean scratch. It is easy to imagine doing what you love, but there seem to be no road signs or maps to tell you how to get there. In many ways we found that it is easier than what we thought would be, and a lot harder than we expected.

People ooh and awe over centerpieces and pretty presentations, but that’s the easy stuff. The hard stuff is the stuff people do not see.
The first obstacle is us, or more specifically, me. I am the constantly at war with both of me.

The first part of me says there is nothing more exciting than doing this. I have the coolest job ever, so obviously it can’t be a job. I am being selfish and arrogant in believing I can do this. I need to grow up, be responsible, and get a real job.

The second part says there is nothing more frightening than this. It is big and scary. I am constantly running the risk of making a fool out of myself, losing all my money, or simply being presumptuous.

I need both of those voices to keep the other one in check. I need to embrace the adventure, accept that I am good at this, and it is not selfish to do what God created me to do. I also need to keep in mind that I am biting off way more than I can chew and if God is not on board with this I am in trouble, so I had better stay on my knees. Either way, I have to receive permission to do what I do.

Now obviously there are some caveats. My dream to be an Olympic ice skater is probably not happening, no matter how much permission I give myself. Nor do I think I will ever create an environmentally friendly non-carbon based fuel that sells for pennies , take over a third world country, or complete a 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle – my dreams are many and diverse.

I feel like I should warn you, once you make the decision to start chasing your dream there are going to those who think that you should stick to something safe. The funny thing is these people seem to have some sort of telepathic powers, they don’t even have to say the words, but you can hear them loud and clear. Just remember for some people negativity is hardwired into their DNA, don’t fall victim to their toxicity.

However, let me be clear here. We all need advisors. We all need clear headed, objective people to help us make wise decisions. Sometimes, if they really love you, they will tell you that there are things you just should not try – like dying yourself purple, eating a habanera pepper or licking the electric fly swat. It isn’t easy to hear, but if they have walked with you in good times and bad, sacrificed time and energy to be your friend then listen. Some of us really shouldn’t be doing things like singing in public, dying our own hair, or wearing spandex – ever.

If the people who really love you caution you against a certain course of action, then they are probably trying to nicely tell you that you are going to make a fool of yourself if you continue. Please listen to them. If you are unsure about the people you call friends, may I suggest a few test runs of things you know to be stupid – they sell those electric fly swats at Bass Pro.

So how do you know if your dream is the dream you should pursue?

After you have talked yourself out of it, listed all the reasons why you shouldn’t, convinced you and all your friends of the absurdity of you doing a thing like this, you should forget it. If you reject it for all the altruistic reasons, and love it for the selfish ones, but still can’t commit to the idea, try something else. If the idea makes you feel powerful and important, walk away, you are probably doing it for the wrong reasons. If it doesn’t scare you it isn’t a dream, it’s a distraction. Above all else, you should walk away from it, put down, kill it off, and if it just keeps coming back bring it in out of the rain, feed it, name it, and realize it is yours to keep. Treat it right.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Third Question- The somewhat long answer.

We put a huge amount of emphasis on longevity. After all we see business and companies, even churches open and close so quickly that we have to wonder how long anything new will last.

So obviously, people want to know how long has Pagus been around.

If you start from when we had our first event, it has been about two years. If you start from when we knew what to call this venture, it has been about ten years. If you want to know when the dream was born we would have to go back about eighteen years (that little bit of math made me flinch!), but like everything else in this world, the circumstances that led to Pagus began way before its inception.

Nathan and I were talking one night, probably one morning is more accurate. We had either been to dinner with a group of his music friends or had just come back from a Collective Soul concert. Either way, it was one of those times when we had once again been confronted with the dichotomy of who we are. On one hand we are Christians who believe with utter abandon, and on the other we artists who share in all the burdens and joys of that reality.

Our artistic friends often do not understand why we are Christians. Nathan and I aren’t like other Christians, or so we are told. We tend to like dark movies, edgy music (okay Nathan’s is edgier than mine, but he is my baby brother). We are fairly knowledgeable about various faiths, and tend to listen when someone is explaining their faith even when it is not in alignment with our own. We throw ourselves into the concerts we attend with them, and love their energy. The list could go on but if you know us you get the idea.

It really should not surprise anyone that our Christian friends often wonder why we hang out with our artist friends, sometimes referred to as that “bunch of heathens/sinners.”(At this point in the conversation, I like to point out Jesus’ friends.) It is sometimes really hard to explain to those who do not share in our artistic temperaments that these people are some of the greatest people alive, full of passion and fire. Almost every conversation with an artist turns to spirituality and they are willing to explore new ideas – if you know how to speak their language.

Nathan and I found ourselves talking that night about how as artists we need other artists in our lives, and how sad it was that often these two aspects of our being had to be held separate due to the inherent mistrust that these two groups hold for each other. And to be fair there is reason on both sides. We began to think of ways to bring these worlds together, not just for our own sake, but because they need each other. (It would be another seven years before I knew just why or how badly we need each other in this respect. I found the answer in the Bible, of all places! ) That night we decided that if we ever did try to do something organized (I use that term loosely), we would call it Pagus. In remembrance of those who braved the supposed monsters of the Pagus to bring God’s word to a people everyone else was afraid of.

We made some very deliberate decisions soon after that conversation. Some out of our own volition, some because God seemed to be pushing us through doors we were just content to peek into. Nathan left to help with a Church plant in Norman while he worked on his music. I went back to school and got my degree in psychology and eventually Biblical Literature. We jokingly said Nathan was doing the field work while I did the academics. We had no idea how true those word would prove to be.

It is ten years later, and we have since broadened our scope. The artistic community still needs to know there is a place for them in God’s kingdom, and the Church still needs to come to a greater appreciation of the insight the artist brings to the world, but now we know that the a bridge must be built. Language and cultural barriers must be overcome. There is so much work to do if we are ever to bring these realms together, but looking back we see the how God has orchestrated our very existence for such a time as this. So in a way, I guess you can say from God’s perspective we have been here all along.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Welcome to the Pagus

The first question you may have is: "What is the Pagus"?  There has always been a place where men have been afraid to go.  In a previous time, the Pagus was marked on a map with the warning, "Here do be monsters".  The Pagus was home to those in the outlying regions of the Roman empire, and therefore beyond the influence of the Church. The people of the Pagus were considered to be inferior in culture, religion, and education, but it was here some of the greatest expressions of Christianity would be created.

Within the Pagus resided artists, musicians and poets who provided Christianity with a strong voice.  In present times, these same individuals can still provide a strong voice to Christianity. This blog's purpose is to explore thoughts, ideas, beliefs and day-to-day experiences of Christians who are artists, musicians, and poets.

Since the Pagus is to be explored, several authors will contribute their unique viewpoint.  The authors will write about their personal Christian experience as well as day-to-day experiences.  Each author's objective is to cause the reader to evaluate the post's message and consider how the message affects the reader's personal life.

Overexposed on the Pagus

When we first decided to do a blog, I really wanted to put this super polished professional face on it. I think I was just in that mode. We strive so hard to make sure that everything we do is as excellent as we can possibly manage, not to say there aren’t mistakes, and I sort of wanted to keep that mentality here as well.

Unfortunately, polished and professional kind of defeats the purpose of the blog. We wanted this to be a chance for you to get to know us, to see who we are and why we are so passionate about Pagus. We wanted a place to give you some history, to get some feedback from you and find out who you are. As I thought about these things, suddenly this grand idea became a bit scary. Suddenly, I wasn’t so sure I wanted you to know that we have no clue as to what we are doing half the time – it is all on the job training, or that we don’t even have shoestring of a budget – it more like a dryer lint budget.

And I don’t want this to become a place where I simply whine about the trials and tribulations of my life, but there is value to being honest about struggles we face as we pursue this dream – or as this dream pursues us. (I am still not for sure which is more appropriate.)

But as I talk to people, I hear keep hearing the same thing over and over again – I would do what I love if I just knew how to get started, if I knew how to begin, where to begin. I think we have this false ideology that if it were meant to happen then it would fall in our laps. The truth is sometimes you just have to jump, and that is what we are doing here – jumping straight into the abyss, praying God is going to catch us, and in the mean time we are trying to fall with grace. Maybe one day it will look like flying.

Revelation says that the enemy is overcome by the word of our testimony, and I believe that this is an appropriate place to share ours. It is not a completed word, hopefully it never will be, but if we can share our story and someone finds the courage to chase their God given dream then Pagus will have experienced one more success. And that is worth sacrificing the polished or professional image sometimes.

So I hope that you will find many things here, some our funnier moments, times of success, truth about the sacrifice it takes to live the life God wants you to have, a few practical things, but most of all I hope you see a reflection of the God we serve. Pray for us, because we pray for you. We may not know you, yet, but we hope to soon.