Thursday, May 26, 2005

trying not to let it go to my head

after a grueling campaign, full of handshaking, babykissing, and more mudslinging than i'd care to admit, the members of the milan ministerial association elected me to serve as president this year. i'm sure most of the votes were a result of the new first lady's off the charts approval rating, but i'll take what i can get, especially since there appeared to to be nothing i could do to get out of it. not sure exactly what all the duties are yet (still have to sit down with Dale, who served with distinction for the last couple of years, and go through all the national secrets, have the official transfer of vestments, hand over the keys to the popemobile, etc.), but i'm genuinely excited to have an excuse to more intentionally support and encourage the pastors in this community. have to pray about the best way to do that, being a relative newcomer and all. we've got a great group of servants in the association, pastors who really love Jesus, who care about his kingdom and his people above everything else.

unrelated note: Colin's got strep throat and an ear infection, although, amazingly, is in as good a mood as always, and taking his medications like a champ. i'm pretty under the weather too, but the doctor cleared me of strep today and gave me several prescriptions to battle this nasty bug. defcon 1, 2, and 3 he called them. up to defcon 2 tonight; defcon 3 is for saturday if things still haven't turned around and i need something to get me through sunday. have i mentioned Dr. Scuccimari before? one of the best healers i know.

related note: my dad was president of the mma, too. sort of a GHWB - GWB thing going on, i reck'n. not sure that's entirely flattering to either of us, depending on your particular persuasions, so maybe i shouldn't have brought it up. but then again, better to get it out in the open before someone writes an op-ed piece...

Friday, May 20, 2005

one for aunt becky

the following may be old news for those of you who are part of the milan vineyard (happened to mention it last sunday), but our 4 year old son Colin has one relative in particular who will be quite proud of him after hearing this:

tuesday evening, just returned from Chicago, trying to prepare for our home group that evening. Ronni's cooking dinner, but i don't really notice. or if i do, i'm too preoccupied to do the math. preoccupied with myself, as it turns out.

"dinner time," she calls.

"oh, didn't i tell you? i'm not really hungry. too much to do to get ready tonight," i say, as i look at the beautiful spread on the table. spaghetti, homemade rolls, steamed vegetables. Colin, seated across from me, eagerly waiting to say grace and dig in.

an incredulous look spreads over Ronni's normally placable face. a sinking feeling develops in the pit of my stomach. hmm... i think, maybe that was the wrong answer.

"you're not hungry? didn't you see me cooking for the last hour and a half!? why didn't you say something? save me from all that work? i only did all this for you."

good questions. to which an intelligent, emotionally balanced person would reply, "i'm so sorry. i got all wrapped up in myself, and totally ignored you. please forgive me. my appetite seems to have returned full force. let's eat!"

but here's what i say: "oh yeah?! well, why didn't you notice how much i had to get done for home group tonight? couldn't you tell there's no way i'd be eating dinner tonight?"

remarkably, Ronni doesn't slap me. instead she just says, "Jesse, please stop. you're not making things any better. i had just put a lot of work into this, and was hoping you'd enjoy it. please don't make me feel worse."

stop, who me? no way. i'm like a tired kid who missed his nap, all filters are gone. i'm just getting rolling. "(dripping with sarcasm now) yeah, that's my goal in life, to make you feel awful. i thought to myself, look how hard Ronni is working because she loves me. i wonder what i can do to really hurt her. oh, i know. i'll tell her i'm not hungry. yeah, that's the ticket."

it gets kind of foggy at this point. i think i go on, i think i'm like a train that's been derailed, all self control has jumped the tracks. bodies are piling up, until the voice of God comes booming out of Colin's mouth, like Jesus' voice silences the infamous storm on the sea of Gallilee.

"Dad! Dad!"

"what, Colin?" irritably, because he's interrupted my narcissistic flow.

"Dad, you should stop. when Mom tells you to stop doing something, you need to stop it." bright eyed, confident, cheerful. says it like it's self evident. as if he's explaining gravity to a four year old.

i squirm, hem and haw, babble something about how yes, those are his rules, but they don't apply the same way to dads, etc.

"no, Dad. you should stop right now." assertive, firm, his eyes putting a half-nelson on my soul. "you're letting your emotions be in charge of you."

"my emotions be in charge of me?" I exclaim, flabbergasted. or maybe just gasted.

"yes, Dad. you need to be in charge of your emotions. then you can stop like Mom says."

Ronni and i have lost it now. she's laughing, smiling triumphantly (as she should), and i'm laughing, cringing, humbled, melting like so much margerine in the heat of my son.

"and what should i stop doing, Colin?" i ask.

"stop making things worse for Mom," he explains, matter of factly. matter of factly, indeed.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

an hour well spent

Steve Sjogren and Rob Lewin write in their recent book, Community of Kindness, "We believe that a church that doesn't do outreach is a waste of time," and " of the foremost qualities that makes for church-planting success is great humility of heart." with that in mind, Jon Bartholomay and i spent an hour today trying our best to communicate Jesus' love to our city, Milan, Michigan. here's a recap of 1:10-2:10 p.m.

1:10 load two buckets with windex, paper towel, pine-sol, sponges, toilet brushes, toilet cleaner, and garbage bags into my car, as well as a bag with 35 gift boxes of Godiva chocolate. each box has this card slipped under the ribbon:

1:11 drive main to wabash, over the river, and into the city complex.
1:14 walk into the police station, and wait for the dispatcher to get off a phone call. "here for the pager?" she inquires (i'm on a once a month rotation as a chaplain for the police department).

"no, actually here to drop off some chocolates for everyone on duty this weekend," we reply, showing her the chocolates. "all free, of course." give her 6 boxes of chocolates, one for each police officer working the weekend shift. wish her well, and thank her for her service to the community.

1:17 walk to the library, and Jon gives the surprised librarian and his coworker a couple boxes of chocolates. "what's this all about?" calls the one furthest away.

"rainy day." I say. "thought you might enjoy some Lady Godiva chocolates"

"really? why?"

"just because God loves you," Jon says.

"wow, thanks!" she says as we leave.

1:20 back up wabash, left on main, park in front of the downtown laundromat. we give chocolates to the two men doing laundry. they look pretty surprised. "this sure makes having to do the wash a lot better," comments one guy as he thanks us.

1:22 wind our way through the back streets to dexter / carpenter, heading north. pull into the other laundromat in town and give chocolates to the 5 or 6 people there. everyone accepts, gladly. "your're from the vineyard church?" asks one woman as we're leaving.

"you know it?"

"i've been to the one in ann arbor once," she says.

we talk for a couple of minutes, introduce ourselves, discover she lives in Milan, works at the adult care facility. we tell her about the church, let her know she's welcome anytime, and offer to pray for her. she enthusiasticaly accepts the offer of prayer, telling us about her children and mother. Jon and i bless her as we leave, and stop at the car to pray for her and her family. we also grab the cleaning supply buckets.

1:30 pop into the coney island restaraunt, and one of the waitresses recognizes me from waiting on me a few times, asks what we're up to, and gets the owner's attention. we give Jonny (the owner and head cook) chocolates for him and his staff (which they seem really surprised and happy about), and tell him we'd love to wash his bathrooms for him. classic servant evangelism double take. priceless. seriously, we persist. free, no catch, no strings attached. go for it! he says, and points the way. Jon and I divy up the work, toilets, sinks, mirrors, and garbage. we work fast, so the customers aren't inconvenienced. we work thoroughly, too, though, so that God's love gets a good reputation, if you know what i mean. many enthusaistic thanks from waitstaff, chefs, and ownership alike on the way out. we thank them for allowing us to serve them. and we mean it. we're having a blast.

1:45 run back to the car to get the bathroom cards, because the next place, Marco's Pizza, has an employee only bathroom (i feel funny leaving cards in public restrooms, since the cards can seem like sneaky advertising--but they work great for employee only bathrooms, since the employees always wonder what in the world we're doing). the cards look like this:

1:47 chocolates for the Marco's employees and a clean bathroom too. still no rejections, which is amazing in this line of work. hard to believe how difficult it is for many people to receive things for free, whether because of skepticism, or lack of practice, or whatever. but we're on a roll, having a great time together, talking, serving, laughing.

1:55 Subway is up next. the manager seems skeptical about the chocolates (maybe it's a language barrier, maybe cultural, maybe it's just outside his categories, who knows). but when one of his employees hears Godiva chocolate is being offered, there's no stopping the love.

"Godiva!? seriously? i'll take some!"

the manager's resistance drops, and he accepts the offer. then we ask about cleaning the their bathroom. another questioning look from the manager.

"our bathroom?" asks the younger guy, incredulously. "why?"

"just a way to show you God love you," answers Jon.

"wow, that's so cool!" he exlaims.

again, the manager softens. points the way to the bathroom. "go ahead," he says, resigned.

10 minutes later, as we're walking out, offering our thanks for the privilege, he beckons us over, points at a new employee behind the counter. we hand over the whole bag of boxes of chocolates. a big smile explodes on the manager's face, and he grabs a box of chocolate out of the bag, handing one to the new guy. go ahead, we encourage him. his smile broadens and he grabs a couple more. he thanks us vigorously, and then asks why, again, are we doing all this. Jesus loved to wash peoples' feet, we say, loved to meet their needs in surprising ways. we're just trying to be like him, best as we can.

2:08 a dry cleaner is the last place on that's open nearby. we stop in and give the woman there some chocolate. seems like she's not exactly sure what to make of us. no, her bathrooms don't need washing. it's free, we clarify. no, still, they are quite clean, nothing needed. no problem, we say, wishing her well and heading back to the car, praying for the people we met, praying for them to meet God's love personally, back to the church, back home.

it's good to get out.

vertigo in chicago

thoroughly enjoyed myself at the U2 show in chicago on Monday. my dad (53), my sister Grace (12), and I (34) must have been quite the odd triplet to observe as we entered the United Center. each of us as excited as the others for the show to start, even if we showed it in different ways. my dad offering conjectures about what method lies behind the particular madness that is U2. Grace trembling, bouncing, quivering with awe and anticipation. me dribbling out bits of trivia about the shows so far on the tour picked up from scouring various fan sites, burning the sequence of songs that comprised my best guess as to the set list that night for us to listen to on the 4 1/2 hour drive into the very windy city.

met up with Cathy Bartholomay, her brother Eddie, and Rachel Smallish once we got in there. i sat with them for the bulk of the show, as my membership only allowed me to get two pre-sale seats, which Dad and Grace used (didn't mind them having the prime real estate, since Ronni and i have floor tickets for the Detroit show in october). Eddie was almost as wired as Grace, i think. which added to the fun, because he's got the kind of energy that's contagious.

what a sweet experience, as Cathy said in an email later. here's a link to a review of the show we saw, if you're interested in the blow by blow details. two highlights for me: (1) singing elevation, Bono holds the mic out to the crowd, and 23,000 people sing the word "soul" in unison. had a witness, as they like to say in more spirited churches. sensed the Holy Spirit's presence and the Father's delight as we like to say in ours. "God walked through the room," as U2 like to say. (2) as the concert closed with "Yahweh" and "40", had the wonderful joy of freely worshipping Jesus with a bunch of human beings whose souls were likely making intentional (if surprising) conscious contact with the living God for the first time, and who had probably entered the arena with no such intentions.

Thursday, May 5, 2005

thursday update

conference continues to be excellent. all about God's mission in the world today. paradigm shifting kinds of stuff. pastors in africa praying for God to stop sending converts because they can't handle all the new believers. arch bishops close to resigning because of being overwhelmed at the number of new churches they have to dedicate. last century, africa went from 10% christians to 46%; something like 10 million students of Jesus to 390 million today. christianity and islam competing to care for the sick and feed the hungry, leading to Philip Jenkin's line of the day: "Truthfully, it's an alms race. May the best religion win." amen to that.

hoping to get DVD's of several of the main sessions, and find a way to watch them together with all the leaders in the church. see how we can respond together to what God is up to in the Vineyard movement, in the church at large, in the world. very encouraged by what i'm seeing and hearing. finding myself so thankful to be part of this tribe, Vineyard. thankful to be associated with so many leaders humbly, passionately, head over heals in love with Jesus and eager to risk everything for his kingdom.

Tuesday, May 3, 2005

small group stuff

great workshops on small groups today, led by Jim Egli who is a pastor at a Vineyard church in Illinois. remarkable statistical research and insights on what makes small groups and small group leaders successful. can't believe how inept i've been at caring for and developing the small group ministry in the church. so many wrong assumptions about what characteristics make a good leader or contribute to a healthy small group.

for example, education, age, time as a believer, personality, etc. have no correlation with success as a small group leader. but how much time you spend praying for the members of your small group has a high correlation. time spent in bible study / content preparation has no correlation with successful small groups. but time spent praying for the small group has a high correlation. what gives? apparently, God gives. interestingly, talking about small groups publicly does absolutely nothing, according to the research, to increase participation in small groups. having a good small group infrastructure and support for leaders does a lot.

find myself with much optimism about getting better in this area personally, being a better encourager, supporter of existing small groups, adding leaders, etc. looking forward to learning more, too, and trying some ideas on for size.

Sunday, May 1, 2005

buckeye country

leaving for scenic Columbus, Ohio in the morning, site of the national vineyard leadership conference. really looking forward to it--have the kind of feeling you get on your way to a big family gathering (the kind of feeling you get if you really like your family, that is). Colin is staying with neighbors and friends, and Elle is coming with Ronni and me.

loved church today. worship team did a new song called Amazed--the song really took off when Amanda and Rich started kickin' it vocally. sounded really, really nice.

gotta pack, catch ya later...