Friday, November 30, 2007

Birds of Prey Downhill

If you're skiing at 80mph and the air temp is zero degrees fahrenheit, what is the windchill? It was a cold one today at Beaver Creek.

Congratulations to Steve Nyman, Bode Miller and Andrew Weibrecht of the US Ski Team for finishing in the top ten of today's Birds of Prey Downhill. Steve Nyman is racing fast this year, consistently beating Bode. Today Nyman's time was only 5 hundredths of a second behind first place finisher Michael Walchhofer of Austria. The Hermanator, Herman Maier, finished 11th. I wish I had been there today, but life and ministry kept me off the slopes. Maybe I can talk Meg and the girls into heading over tomorrow for the Super-G races.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

MIZ-ZOU! BCS Champions-to-be!?!

It's been a crazy year in sports. The Rockies made it to the World Series (never mind how that turned out...), the Arkansas Razorbacks upset LSU this week, and last night the MU Tigers beat the KU what-cha-ma-call-its to win the Big 12 North. As we passed Arrowhead Stadium in KC yesterday afternoon, I-70 was backed up for miles to the east and to the west. As one born in the Show-Me State, I have long dreamed of a collegiate national football championship. I think this is the year.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Thanksgiving in St. Louis

It all started with an extremely good packing job, if you ask me. I continue to be amazed at how much stuff actually fits in our 2001 Mazda MPV. Our trek across the great plains started on Sunday night around 6:30pm. After too many hours in the miniature van, we arrived in Salem, Arkansas at 6:30pm on Monday. It was wonderful to see Meg's grandma, Mrs. Nora Sherrill, and her aunt Joan and uncle John. But it is sad to see the effects of Alzheimer's taking their toll on our sweet Grandmommie. Praise God that the girls were able to see her again and hold her hand, if but for a few moments. With hope in Nora's union with Christ by faith, we arrived at my folks house in Ellisville, MO shortly after midnight that night, thanks to one of Sonic's Rt44 Cherry Limeades and Megan's gift of late-night conversation.

Tuesday brought 70+ degree weather, a rare opportunity for me to worship God at the Covenant Seminary Chapel, a great BBQ lunch with the pastors at FBC Ellisville, and a trip to the St. Louis Zoo with the girls and my Grammie Pearson (my mom's mom). Swimming in Granny & Poppie's pool filled up most of our time until Thursday morning, along with eating way too much of my mom & Grammie's incredible food.

Yesterday (T-day), we went over the creeks and through the woods for 20 minutes to Meg's folks' house and enjoyed a Thanksgiving feast with Meg's sister Alison, my brother-in-law Jeff Niermann, and their kids, Lillian and Joshua. Someone wisely suggested that we take the family picture before the meal, which turned out to be a great idea, because I spent the afternoon upstairs in a triptophan induced nap.

Today, I'm up early, feeling great after a 7am run. This post is being composed at a St. Louis Bread Company (AKA Panera to my non-St. Louisan friends - that's how they all started years ago on the U City Loop near our alma mater, Washington U). Perhaps a movie this afternoon. Thanks to Meg, all our Christmas shopping is DONE! Tonight we enjoy the Christmas Lights with Lilly and Josh at Grants Farm. Perhaps I will also enjoy a few free samples of some of Anheuser-Busch's traditional offerings.

We'll get back in the car tomorrow morning for our cruise across the chilly plains, stopping in Wentzville to see my nephew Alex's new house and stopping in Independence to for lunch with my church-planting friend Jason Allen and his family. God willing, we will be back home before 10pm and I will be preaching from Jude 17-25 at Christchurch on Sunday morning.

Thank God for Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Just as good the 2nd time

I just got back from seeing Warren Miller's Playground at the Paramount Theater in Denver. It was just as good the 2nd time.

Pray for snow.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Warren Miller's Playground

Last night I took Anna to see Warren Miller's Playground at the Boulder Theater.  She got to help Chris Anthony give away prizes during the intermission.  We had a great time.  Here's the trailer.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

One Year Ago this Week

I got a new computer this week.  It's a MacBook and it has this really cool iPhoto program.  As I transfered our photos from this past year to the new computer, I was able to scan much of my life over the past year.  It has been a good year. This photo is from one year ago this week.  This morning I read a prayer from the Valley of Vision prayer book.  It was titled God the Source of All Good.  "O Lord God, who inhabits eternity, the heavens declare your glory, the earth your riches, the universe is your temple, your presence fills immensity, yet you have of your pleasure created life, and communicated happiness; you have made me what I am and have given me what I have; in you I live and move and have my being; your providence has set the bounds of my habitation, and wisely administers all my affairs.  I thank you for your riches to me in Jesus, for the unclouded revelation of him in your Word..."  In so many ways it has been a good year!

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Book Review: The Peacemaker

Throughout each season of my life so far, God has allowed me to experience a significant measure of conflict with others. As the youngest child in my family, I learned how to avoid conflict (especially with my father and older siblings) and often behaved like those Alfred Poirier and Ken Sande call “peace-fakers”. As a teenager and young adult, I learned how to do my share of “peace-breaking” with family and friends, especially girlfriends. I am still shocked at my own ability to hurt others. I first started hanging around Christians when I was 20 years old. God brought me into a church that believed the Bible was true. This church taught me that the gospel of grace can reconcile broken relationships. I quickly grew to love these Christians very much. But when some of the younger Christians I loved in this church got in a big fight with some of the older Christians that I also loved, our church split and over half of the congregation left in a huff to start a new church a few miles down Manchester Road. I was a spiritually young Christian when that happened and that divorce-like experience has profoundly shaped my Christian life and my calling as a pastor (in both good and bad ways). I want to minister the gospel in such a way that people are reconciled to God and to one another. I want to see God glorified as the power of the gospel is displayed to be real in our relationships. But even after 12 years in ministry and with a seminary degree hanging on my office wall, I must admit how often I’ve failed in my own peacemaking. But there is hope. Reading The Peacemaker renewed my hope in God and my confidence in the power of the gospel to reconcile broken human relationships.

My hope has been renewed for more than just my ministry role as a pastor. This book also renewed my hope for my marriage role as a husband. I married Megan when I was 22 years old, and we have fought many times during our 15+ years of marriage. (Each one of those fights is resolved today, in case you’re wondering.) We have had to learn many conflict resolution skills and apply them many times during our marriage. But I’m concerned that sometimes we have not seen the connection between how we resolve our conflicts with one another and the way our marriage displays the gospel to our kids and to the world. I’m looking forward to applying the principles of this book to our next disagreement. I trust that as I apply this biblical teaching to my marriage, my love for Megan will grow even deeper and the glory of God will be displayed through real reconciliation, unity and peace between us.

I appreciated The Peacemaker’s focus on the sovereignty of God in relation to our personal experiences of conflict. During some church-related conflict I was in earlier this year, I often failed to see the centrality of God even in my trials. This prevented me from seeing conflict as holistically I should have seen it. “God’s sovereignty is so complete that he exercises ultimate control even over painful and unjust events.” (page 61) Embracing God’s sovereignty over my conflicts frees me to see that conflict is neither an inconvenience nor an occasion to force our will on others, but rather an opportunity to demonstrate the love and power of God in our lives. (page 31) The Peacemaker teaches that I Corinthians 10:31-11:1 presents a counter-cultural understanding of conflict: It is not merely a matter for negotiation, rather it is truly an opportunity to glorify God, serve others, and grow to be like Christ. When the gospel of Jesus is applied to our badly broken relationships with wisdom and skill (sometimes with the help of biblically-trained mediators, conciliators and church leaders), God is glorified as good.

Ken Sande also writes: “Many marriages, friendships and business relationships are lost because people focus exclusively on a point of disagreement and forget about all that they have enjoyed in and with one another.” (page 89) While this has not been a big problem in my marriage and personal friendships, it certainly has been a problem for me in my business and ministry relationships over the years. Before answering God’s call to full-time ministry 12 years ago, I worked for 7 years as a custom home builder and real estate broker. I can recall numerous times when one area of disagreement on a custom home contract became the exclusive focus of all parties. When I’m in the midst of a conflict, my inclination is to focus my work energy on the problem until it is overcome. This response only intensifies the focus on the problem, rather than on the overall business relationship (or rather than on God in a ministry relationship). Most of my custom home buyers were extremely satisfied with their homes, but I can still see the faces of a few where the focus on one problem led us all into a badly broken business relationship. Thankfully, none of these cases ever ended up in court, but I’m confident that those buyers never referred us to their other friends who were looking to build a home. Today, as I reflect on my ministry years, I can identify a number of ministry relationships where I have focused exclusively on one point of disagreement (sometimes behavioral, sometimes theological, sometimes relational), which has resulted in broken relationships and ultimately the departure of one of us from the fellowship of believers. Dear God, help me to see the forest for the trees, as well as my mistakes and my sins, and to respond to each matter of conflict I face with more wisdom and tact. Amen. “One evidence of sincere repentance is a willingness to thoroughly examine ourselves so that we can uncover both our mistakes and our sins.” (page 119) The more I reflect on life, the more convinced I am that repentance is not easy. It is a sovereign work of grace and is an inseparable experience with real faith in Jesus.

In The Peacemaker, I also picked up one very practical tip on asking for forgiveness. If a person to whom we may have confessed a mistake or sin does not express forgiveness, we may rightfully ask, “Will you forgive me?” “This signals to the other person that you have done all that you can by way of confession that that the responsibility for the next move has shifted to the other person.” (page 132) The important tip that I picked up is to allow the other person some time here. I need to be careful to not use this question as a means to pressure someone into forgiving me, especially my wife Megan and our girls. Better to say something like, “I hope you will soon be able to forgive me” and be patient as we wait for God’s work of reconciliation to be completed, than to press for forgiveness too quickly. Asking “Will you forgive me?” and expecting an immediate “yes” doesn’t allow the other person to go through the process of remembering the gospel and applying it to the situation. It is much better to have real forgiveness based on Jesus’ work than a forced forgiveness based on relational pressure.

Have you ever tried to follow the Bible’s teachings on resolving conflict and things only ended up getting worse? I have. “If your words seem to do more harm than good when you try to resolve a disagreement, don’t give up. With God’s help you can improve your ability to communicate constructively.” (page 162) As a personal application from the chapter on speaking the truth in love, I have recommitted myself to being disciplined to not interrupt others while they are speaking. This has been a bad habit of mine, especially with Megan, and with God’s help I’m going to get better at being a disciplined listener.

Here’s another hopeful lesson that I’m taking away from reading The Peacemaker:

“When an offense is too serious to overlook and the offender has not yet repented, you may need to approach forgiveness as a two-stage process. The first stage requires having an attitude of forgiveness, and the second, granting forgiveness. Having an attitude of forgiveness is unconditional and is a commitment you make to God (see Mark 11:24, Luke 6:28, Acts 7:60). By his grace, you seek to maintain a loving and merciful attitude toward someone who has offended you. This requires making and living out the first promise of forgiveness, which means you will not dwell on the hurtful incident or seek vengeance or retribution in thought, word or action. Instead you pray for the other person and stand ready at any moment to pursue complete reconciliation as soon as he or she repents. This attitude will protect you from bitterness and resentment, even if the other person takes a long time to repent.” (page 211)

I find hope here for the unresolved conflicts and broken relationships in my life. There is a God. He is the God of hope. He is big enough to handle the hard cases that we can’t fix. Because of Jesus, there is hope for reconciliation between people now at enmity.

The Peacemaker includes many real-life examples of conflict and reconciliation, but the most helpful to me was the detailed explanation of the “barking dog” conflict in the book’s final chapters. I plan to revisit this example the next time I have a conflict with someone outside my family.

I’m thankful for The Peacemaker. God used it to remind me how much I’ve been forgiven, and that has motivated me to more humbly be willing to forgive others.