Thursday, July 26, 2012

changes in downtown Waterloo

The Love is Power Mural that Youth Art Team painted in the Walnut Neighborhood May-June 2011, will be torn down with the garage as CVS Pharmacy prepares to build on their recently purchased  land.  

Immanuel Lutheran Church and School was the gateway into the Walnut Neighborhood  for years and years.  Immanuel, due to financial need, sold their land and buildings to CVS Pharmacy in 2011.  

Immanuel Lutheran Church will be demolished in the next month as CVS Pharmacy builds their store on the corner.  
First Presbyterian Church, my home church for the first 33 years of my life, sits on the perimeter of the Walnut Neighborhood.    In decline over the past seventeen years, it  faces the changes and challenge of becoming relevant to and with the neighborhood.  

This new waterfront amphitheater is the latest addition to a downtown revitalization plan for Waterloo, IA.
The new Mark's Park sits adjacent to the amphitheater and has been a terrific place for children to cool off  during this hot, dry summer!

Praying for the kind of change that glorifies Christ and His Kingdom in our local community!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

recognizing our poverty

I love Oswald Chambers' My Utmost for His Highest.  Here's his devotion on Matthew 5:3 "Blessed are the poor in Spirit."

The Gateway to the Kingdom

"Beware of placing our Lord as Teacher first.  If Jesus Christ is a Teacher only, then all He can do is tantalize me by erecting a standard I cannot attain.  What is the use of presenting me with an ideal I cannot possibly come near?  I am happier without knowing it.  What is the good of telling me to be what I never can be- pure of heart, to do more than my duty, to be perfectly devoted to God?  I must know Jesus Christ as Saviour before His teaching has any meaning for me other than that of an ideal which leads to despair.  But when I am born again of God, I know that Jesus Christ did not come to teach only:  He came to make me what He teaches I should be.  The Redemption means that Jesus Christ can put into any man the disposition that ruled His own life, and all the standards God gives are based on that disposition.

The teaching of the Sermon on the Mount produces despair in the natural man- the very thing Jesus means it to do.  As long as we have a self-righteous, conceited notion that we can carry out Our Lord's teaching, God will allow us to go on until we break our ignorance over some obstacle, then we are willing to come to Him as paupers and receive from Him.  "Blessed are the paupers in spirit," that is the first principle in the Kingdom of God.  The bedrock in Jesus Christ's kingdom is poverty, not possession; not decisions for Jesus Christ, but a sense of absolute futility- I cannot begin to do it.  Then Jesus says- Blessed are you.  That is the entrance, and it does take us a long while to believe we are poor!  The knowledge of our own poverty brings us to the moral frontier where Jesus Christ works."  (July 21 My Utmost for His Highest

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

paterno tendencies

Before I too quickly determine that I would never have acted as Joe Paterno did in the Sandusky child sexual abuse scandal, I have to look at all the tendencies we carry within us that would cause us to react in a similar way.

-Denial.  We don't want to believe that situations are really as terrible or dysfunctional as they might indeed be. We rationalize, justify, minimize, excuse, we live in denial to help us avoid confronting evil and ugly truth.

-Self-protect.   We tend to consider ourselves before the well-being of others.  We fear what it might cost us if we confront the injustice/abuse, we attempt to place the responsibility on someone else, and we often don't recognize the hold that power and money, reputation and our "empires" have on us...even when we consider ourselves to be people of  faith and strong moral character.

Maybe these are not true of everyone, but I know these are true of me.  Just two weeks ago, I was at Picnic in the Park, an event that I co-lead, and I was visiting with a man who is a regular in the park.  We caught part of a conversation that was heating up between a woman and man not far from us.  She was telling the man to leave her alone and to stop stalking her.  She then got up and began to walk out of the park.  The man began to follow her and hide behind trees attempting to stay up with her without being seen.  As the man darted across the street, I said to my friend in the park, "this can't be good," and before I knew it, my friend was on the phone to the police describing the situation and asking for them to come check it out.  

As the man and woman disappeared around a corner away from the park, I had watched him follow her, but then I had been ready to turn and get back to the business in the park.  Something in me was telling myself that I didn't know the whole situation, that it was none of my business, that it was just a relationship tiff,  that I had other important responsibilities to attend to in the park.  My friend, however, had no other agenda and no such filter trying to manage or rationalize the situtation.  Boom, he was on the phone to the police.  This caused me to reflect about our different responses, and without knowing how the situation ended, I decided I needed to pray that I might grow in wisdom, discernment, courage, compassion, and self-abandonment.

I imagine that I'm not the only one that struggles with denial and self-protection.  The Penn State report talks about those in power ignoring the well-being of children.  Today, nearly 30,000 children will die of preventable disease while millions of others will continue to live and spend in excessive patterns across our world.  There are vulnerable children in our own community who are struggling to grow and thrive.  I can deny and self-protect, or I can ask what God might have for me to do to live in the way of compassion and justice.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

on accountability

A disheartening story has been unfolding this week of the deceit and downfall of a leader in the financial world, Russ Wasendorf, Sr., founder of PFGBest.  I would not normally pay much attention to such a story in the media, but in this case, Wasendorf's company is two miles south of our home, his house is one mile north of our house.  Wasendorf's influence in Cedar Falls has been broad, and this story has certainly rocked the community.  
There are many leadership lessons (in the negative sense) to learn from this sad saga.   In the leadership classes and books I've taken in over the past five or six years, the lesson on creating a system of accountability to ensure integrity is never more clear than in the note that Russ Wasendorf Sr. wrote himself before he attempted suicide.  

No matter how morally strong we believe ourselves to be, safeguards against the destructive lure of pride and power need to be put into place.  Whether we're a CEO or a stay at home mom, accountability is a needed ingredient in our days to keep ourselves living in the realm of reality and truth and out of the ditch of deception.  

  CEO Suicide note details:

Friday, July 13, 2012

what are you reading this summer?

"We are perfectly designed to produce what we are currently producing."

-quote from On the Verge, a book I'm reading that speaks to the faulty institutional paradigm driving much of the American Church and how to shift forward into an apostolic Jesus movement for the future.

What are you reading this summer?

Thursday, July 12, 2012

the irony

I temporarily have a DVD copy of the 2011 Willow Creek Global Leadership Summit, and I've been watching and  listening to two sessions over and over this past week:  Tough Callings with Bill Hybels, Wess Stafford, and Mama Maggie and The Wise, Foolish, and Evil by Henry Cloud.

When Wess Stafford (president of Compassion International) spoke, he shared a story of an Ethiopian pastor named Tedessa.  During Communist rule, the Christian Church was forced underground in Ethiopia, and Pastor Tedessa, who continued to preach the Gospel and speak at funerals, was imprisoned and ultimately sentenced to execution by electrocution.  Through Wess's story, the listener learns that God protects Tedessa's life through two electrocution attempts.  Officials not only failed to kill Tedessa, but they also released him and commanded him to go away, and Wess caught up with Tedessa just hours after these execution attempts as Tedessa went off to preach the Gospel at a funeral.  In their conversation, Wess relayed to Tedessa that Christians in America were praying for the Ethiopian people, and Tedessa responded by telling Wess that they were praying for the people of the West.  

Wess asked, "Really?  What do you pray when you pray for people in the West?"  

Tedessa went on to tell Wess that though the Ethiopian Church's suffering was severe, it was not near the suffering that we in the West are experiencing. Tedessa shared that due to the pressure, the Ethiopian Church prays all day long....Tedessa heard that it was possible that Christians in the West might not pray all day long, maybe not even once a day.  Tedessa shared how the Ethiopian Church risked their lives to gather together because they need each other so much...he heard that in America there might be several churches in the same area with people free to come and go as they please, but that on a nice day, Christians might choose to go on a picnic instead of to church.  And finally, Tedessa shared that his congregation had one Bible to share, so he ripped it up and gave it out to the congregation to memorize the part handed to them....he heard that Bibles are plentiful in America but that it was possible for Christians to go all day without engaging in the Word of God.  

After seventeen years of oppression and persecution, Communism fell and the Church was allowed to gather freely again.  In the time of persecution, the Church had grown five-fold in Ethiopia.  People came 2-3 hours early to get a seat inside the church, as church spilled out onto the hillside.

Mind you, while I was listening to this session for the 3rd time this week, I was in our basement cleaning my bulging bookshelves and organizing tote boxes in our crawl space.  The content found in the tote boxes and on the bookshelves?  8 Bibles, 400+ Christian living/growth books, 6 crates of files on various Christian topics and events, and over 25 binders of Christian curriculum and class materials.  In the midst of Stafford's story, I found myself opening one of the binders from a Spiritual Growth Task Force I sat on in 2004, and recognized that the content, questions, stuck points are the same for today's conversations at my church..8 years later.

Sitting there, I was struck to the core of my being with a sudden overwhelming sense of irony, upside-downness, inside-outness.  "Our suffering is severe, but it's nowhere near your suffering...."  I was thoughtful about our casual, unhurried conversations in the American Church regarding the slow transformational journey of faith contrasted with this Ethiopian's sense of urgency, fire, courage, and radical "all-in" devotion.

These are the kinds of collisions God likes to put in my life to help me reflect and challenge me with the deep nature of things.  I pray that people like Tedessa will spur me on to greater surrender and fire in Christ!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

no question

Natural disasters always have a way of reminding us humans of who is really in control; who is actually in charge.  Iowa farmers planted their crops this Spring, but the ground has been bone dry around here.  We're at a 6 inch deficit for rainfall over the Spring/Summer.  I took these photos yesterday near our can see that the corn is s.t.r.e.s.s.e.d..

God, there is no question that you are the Sovereign God.  This is your mission, and you determine our steps, our breath.  We ask for your good and perfect will to be done, and we ask for rain in all of the places of the earth that need a drink of such blessing.   We ask it in the name of Jesus the Restorer.  Amen.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

in the ordinary

 My thirteen year old daughter is an up and coming photographer who borrows my camera often and walks about snapping a bazillion pictures (thank God for digital).  Aren't these photos that she took outstanding?
 Here's the thing.  These pictures were all taken out at our acreage one lazy day this summer when Sara was looking for something to do.  She took scads of pictures of things I walk past almost every day with a ho-hum.
 After viewing these photos, I commented, "Sara, I never realized our place looked so amazing and beautiful until I saw it through your photographs!"
 I tend to take pictures most often when there are events and special activities...track meets, birthdays, holidays, ministry events, etc...the "big" things that tend to take up a small minority of our days.
 My daughter takes pictures of the ordinary, everyday items and moments that make up the majority of our days.  Yet these are so memorable because they are the very things that, well, make up our days!
 These photographs are some powerful reminders to me.
 1.  Look at the world through the eyes of a child!
 2.  Look for beauty in the everyday, ordinary of life!
3.  God is everywhere, all the time.  He may reveal Himself in the big events or activities: a Sunday morning service, a funeral, a camp, a conference...but He continues to speak, teach, create, restore, and reveal Himself all the time in our everyday, ordinary lives.
Am I attentively looking and listening?
Am I willing to join with Him as He makes all things new in Jesus?  As He makes me new in Jesus?
Have I thanked God today for His creative beauty and Genius?
Have you?

Monday, July 2, 2012

LinK Camp Top Ten

LinK Summer Camp landed toward the top of my youth ministry experiences.  I was considering why that it is and here are my top ten reasons…

10.  Originally, I thought about taking the group to Lost Island WaterPark for our afternoon of water fun.  It would have cost about $400 to do so, and the camp would have been split up all afternoon as people went from attraction to attraction.  Instead of this, we were invited to spend the afternoon at a friend’s acreage and pond.  Our friends provided lunch for us, and I watched as our whole group got to stay together, swim, paddleboat, launch water balloons, even fish together.  This option continued to build community and was SO much better than the water park.  Thanks, Jerry and Laurie for the invitation!

9.  This 3 ½ day camp for 17 people cost $345 total.  Campers and donors contributed $155 toward camp making the total output $190.  It was cool to see this group use wisely the resources in front of us….a church with a kitchen, gym, showers…a local food bank that allowed us to get crazy amounts of food for under $40….friends who provided snacks and sleeping bags….friends who offer their pools and ponds for recreation…friends who gave us a discount at their Tropical Sno business….getting to attend the Teen Serve worship and program each evening for free.  There was much available for us this past week that allowed for LinK camp to be extremely affordable.

8.   The worship (Phil Joel) and speaker (Joel Johnson) at Central Middle School spoke into the lives our team and connected our hearts to the will of God.   Christ’s vision and challenge was made clear to our team through Teen Serve programming each night.  It was also cool to join into 400 other students who had been joyfully serving Cedar Valley residents all week. 

7.  There were good senses of humor and a lot of fun found in this team.   Playing 9 Square, swimming, playing Sardines, cooking meals, playing basketball, fishing, serving together….laughter and good memories built. 

6.  Having two students and two adults lead each meal was amazing.  Loved forming teams for each meal and watching groups cook together and serve the rest of our group.   This helped us form team and community for the week!

5.  It was great to see my own children serve, worship, and play together in LinK Camp.  They expressed being challenged in their relationship with Jesus, making friends, and having a lot of good fun throughout the week. 

4.  The number of people and diversity of the group was a highlight for me.  I continue to feel strongly about programming for a relatively small group of students with a strong ratio of adult guides to students.  Ten students and seven adults was a good strong mix. 

3.  I was in awe of how God put the pieces together for LinK Camp.  It wasn’t even until the end of May that  I seriously began to think that LinK Camp might happen.  God brought adults and students and schedules and serving projects and details all together in so many beautiful ways!

2.  The six counselors were aMAZING!  Awesome young adults who love Jesus and youth and adventure.  These counselors took a leap of faith out of their comfort zones to participate in LinK Camp, and they were tremendous.  Passion for Jesus, fun, responsible, great role models.  As we dropped off students late Thursday night after the Teen Serve program, all the counselors got out of the car to love on the students as we sent them into their homes, and then they went off to Perkins together to celebrate and enjoy one another after camp was over.  It was neat to see new friendships formed among the grown-ups. 

1.  Many times we come home from mission trips and talk about getting our students to serve locally.  We not only served locally during this experience, but the three homes in which we served were in a neighborhood where three of the students live.   As two of the boys loaded up scrap metal on the truck, I watched them and saw their own house in the background.  It was beautiful to introduce them to their neighbors and to affirm them for positively contributing to their neighborhoods by serving their literal neighbors.   Focusing our efforts in one geographic location helps to create momentum and a picture of Jesus restoring hearts, lives, and places!

Sunday, July 1, 2012

a few looks at LinK Summer Camp

We started our mornings with worship and a devotion

Our group served two days in the Walnut Neighborhood.  Here are the  guys with Jack, a homeowner in the neighborhood that is unable to walk due to polio.

The young men took a shed down for Jack in his backyard.

Dana lives right around the corner from Jack.  It was great to introduce him to his neighbor, Jack, and to  help him learn how to serve his neighbor and work toward strengthening the neighborhood.

You know you've served a neighbor when you're willing to clean their toilet!  Jack thanks you, Estrella!  Cleaning toilets for Jesus!

Myrtle lives in the neighborhood just a few doors down from Jack.  This group of four young ladies  painted doors and trim for Myrtle today.

...and painted a bit of themselves as well. :)

On our second day of serving in the neighborhood, Link Campers painted  in a four-plex that is being rebuilt after a fire this past year.  

Daytrell also lives in the Walnut Neighborhood.  It was a joy to work together in a group and to show students how Jesus can restore hearts, lives, and neighborhoods...and that he uses His followers in the process! 

Cook teams composed of four people prepared meals for us at the church each day.  Each leader and student cooked for at least two of the meals.  Dana, second from left, volunteered to cook for more than his assigned meals.  We named him "Iron Chef"!

Phil Joel led worship each night at Teen Serve's worship event at Central Middle School.  Our campers went to this program each night.  Phil, and his wife, Heather, challenge students to passionately pursue Christ and to spend time meeting with God each morning.  Their website,, provides daily readings and tools for the journey.

Joel Johnson,, was the national youth speaker at the event.  He focused on grasping God's great love for us, allowing God to be our perfect parent, and creating godly standards in dating relationships.  

We even did a 30 minute Love Cedar Valley outreach blitz on our last day of serving.  Our group had a very interesting half hour in downtown Waterloo.  It included the first time of walking down fire escape stairs for several of us.  

We were able to culminate our camp experience with a wonderful afternoon  at a friend's.  Fishing, swimming, paddleboating, snocones, petting zoo, relaxing in a hammock...totally awesome day!

Temps were in the mid-90's...a perfect day for a water trampoline!

At least 8 fish were caught by campers.  A few witnesses reported some fish kissing going on!

Team Tie-Dye.  Love the colorful and unique patterns found on each shirt made by  campers.

Link...Linking arms and lives for Life in the Kingdom of God.