Friday, December 14, 2007

To Infinity and.... ?


How can I even start to explain what has happened in the last few weeks? How about some bullets?

- The house is under contract. The folks moving in are a blended family. They're a couple with 6 kids! - Yeah 6! A couple of weeks ago they came in to lay claim on space and it looked like a hybrid of the Von Trapps and a row of ducklings filing in. They seemed to be well-behaved and rather cute. The well-behaved part might have something to do with the fact that "Dad" is a K-9 officer with the Martinez, CA PD. Even the law-enforcing beast will live here.

- Joel McMinn from Northgate purchased a storage facility in Newton, NC (just minutes from Hickory). This was in the developing stages WELL before we informed folks of our pin-pointed focus on that part of the US. He and his wife Pat have met with us and are extremely supportive of what we envision. He wants us to manage it part-time and will let us use space rent-free until we can get settled in the area. This is a HUGE God-thing! He even spent a few weeks out there and had a very enjoyable connection with our main support folks (Dennis & Jeannie Cheuvront).

- Shawn West. What can we say? He has been a main staple for us on this end. He has run 2 coffee shops (before the Starbucks blitz) and now roasts coffee. He is our current supplier. We are purchasing a fully automatic espresso machine from him that retails at over $10k. His price is $5.5k (hardly used) with a full year guarantee. We will take it with us and make it our "seed" to plant. He also has coffee shop equipment and furniture stored that we may be able to buy for far less than starting from dead-scratch. I think we are leaning heavily toward getting it. His counsel was for us to find a space first and then determine our need. THAT is integrity!

Those are the highlights for now. Needless, to say, we are getting very excited about this adventure and the discoveries ahead.



Friday, November 23, 2007

It Works Both Ways

A few days ago, I let the participants in one of the e-groups I'm in know about our pending move. One of the more prolific pontificators of the group responded. He asked me about lessons learned in the decision-making process and how we have been shaped by the rigor of our own transformation.

I had to think for awhile, not realizing it wasn't because I did not know the answer, but because we are smack in the middle of the process itself.

Thanks to his question, I've been able to put up a rear-view mirror enabling me to look back to consider what I have gained to take ahead with me.

I'm sure there are many more insights for me to gain, but the one that is taking a hold of me now is this.

I'm a leader in the context of a team of other leaders. And I have been granted the privilege and responsibility of developing emerging leaders. I made a discovery that has impacted me as a recipient and a provider. It has to do with an area that has challenged me my whole life. It's a thing called "motivation." I didn't really realize that motivation is fueled by two boosters. One if Affirmation; the other is Opportunity. Motivation has no drive or momentum without them.

A leader of leaders certainly needs discernment in developing other leaders, But he/she also needs to make sacrifices and to be a risk-taker so that foundational roots can grasp and take hold of the nourishing soil called stewardship.

As I continue to lead others, I pray that I will be able to let go so that others may grow. So that the reign of God's Kingdom can spread and Body of Christ on earth can organically infect the world that God so loves.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

An IKTHUS on the Line

In regards to putting our house "on the market" (one of the worst in many, many years) a few months ago, a very common question we've been hearing since then is - "Any nibbles?" At first I would say "No, we just keep casting our line hoping it's a good spot." About a month ago I would answer, "The bobber is moving, but we don't know if it's a passing fish or the wind blowing." Most recently, I would reply, "The bobber is actually dipping slightly under the surface." As of last night at around 9 pm I can now say, "We've got one on the line and we're carefully reeling it in - VERY carefully."

IOW - We accepted an offer last night. It looks very promising since all that is left is an appraisal and pest inspection, etc. The price was lower than we had hoped, but God has been surprising us along the way and we're confident that there are a few more ahead.

Very interesting timing. The closing is scheduled for December 21st and we move out on the 26th. So we'll have a very memorable "Christmas 2007." We've already been invited to dinner by some very close friends.

Please continue to pray for our transition. We will have to recruit strong men and efficient packers to help us load a trailer on the day after Christmas. We plan to pull out on the 27th and arrive in NC within 5-6 days.

Thanks for your interest in our lives. We'll keep you updated.

Check out our new website as well - there's fresh roasted coffee there you can purchase to help us and Mission Solano in Fairfield, CA

Have a blessed Thanksgiving,


Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Journey in Song

I love many types of music and have a great appreciation of many composers and performers of my generation.

Among them is James Taylor. Many of his tunes utilize a journey theme (did he initiate this for John Denver of vice versa?).

One of his songs has become a recurring "earworm" for me. I love the melody, the words and its relevance.

In my mind I'm goin' to Carolina
Can't you see the sunshine
Can't you just feel the moonshine
Maybe just like a friend of mine
It hit me from behind
Yes I'm goin' to Carolina in my mind

Karen she's a silver sun
You best walk her way and watch it shinin'
Watch her watch the mornin' come
A silver tear appearing now I'm cryin'
Ain't I goin' to Carolina in my mind

There ain't no doubt it no ones mind
That loves the finest thing around
Whisper something soft and kind
And hey babe the sky's on fire, I'm Dyin'
Ain't I goin' to Carolina in my mind

In my mind I'm goin' to Carolina
Can't you see the sunshine
Can't you just feel the moonshine
Maybe just like a friend of mine
It hit me from behind
Yes I'm goin' to Carolina in my mind

Dark and silent late last night
I think I might have heard the highway calling
Geese in flight and dogs that bite
Signs that might be omens say I going, going
I'm goin' to Carolina in my mind

With a holy host of others standing 'round me
Still I'm on the dark side of the moon
And it looks like it goes on like this forever
You must forgive me
If I'm up and gone to Carolina in my mind

In my mind I'm goin' to Carolina
Can't you see the sunshine
Can't you just feel the moonshine
Maybe just like a friend of mine
It hit me from behind
Yes I'm goin' to Carolina in my mind

Monday, November 19, 2007

"How Many More Miles?"

Well, literally - about 2,670-some. If you mapquest "Benicia, CA/Hickory, NC.

My late father (one of the pioneers in the road trip history of America after Eisenhower created the interstate system) was among the first to utilize the "about one more hour" diversionary tactic to shut us up for the next 45 minutes.

I believe we are nearing that allegorical threshold as I type this entry - call it an "eleventh" one.

God has given us a bit of hope in the dreadful housing market scenario. There is a family in the next courtlet who have visited the house 3 times. And now Liz (our realtor goddess) just called (I mean when I was typing "Well, literally - about ,,,") and informed us of a family that came through on Saturday who wants to make an offer.

I would be remiss if I did not let the reader know that Teena kept saying. "I'm praying for 2 offers." Every time I heard her, I thought "She's so noble, but equally naive. Okay - I'll pray for that too. Bless your heart."

She just got home and I told her. She did a "Snoopy Dance."

Pardon me - I'm a cock-eyed optimist. I'm cautious about hope since I don't want to put myself so high with it, that I break a few limbs when the "sudden stop" occurs. I do hope that both offers will come to fruition. We'll see.

The biblical encouragement that God does exceedingly beyond all we ask or think has its balance with the two of us. Teena asks, I think.



Friday, October 26, 2007

Divine Surgery

I'm still in the recovery room from yesterday's staff meeting.

I felt like God placed me on the table and cut me open without anesthetic - only a strong sedative. I'm looking down at the guts of my soul and watching him remove the appendix, gallbladder, perhaps even the spleen as I'm being painfully transformed.

I walked away wounded and groggy thinking - "perhaps I am the culprit instigating an aggravated tension among this handful of passionate leaders." The newest member of the group comes riding in on a fertile stallion with heightened nobility and blissful ignorance defending the founder. He later asks critical questions that fall on the one he defended - the same types of questions asked again and again without answers by the one who writes these words - yea, factors that lead toward my loss of respect and regard.

The main challenge was - If there can be no trust of the one God has placed in the primary leadership role, then it's time to move one. I listen as I fight off the cynical thoughts in my head wishing to exit my mouth "I'm working on it" or "5 others have done
just that since I've been here. So where's the problem?" But the Words through a man named James restrain me.

So - I'm on antibiotics and pain meds (keeping my metaphoric tone) processing what this means.

Undespairingly perplexed,


For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
-2 Cor 4:17&18

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Dialoging Distinctions

I was fighting off anger at our staff meeting this morning and then became soothed by the penetration of God's Word plunging into my spiritual marrow.

I'm hearing all this hyper-emphasis on structure and how important one hour is on Sunday - thinking simultaneously about Israel's cry for a King followed by God's warning of what such structure entails. I'm thinking about the demand for a "permanent" temple and how all 3 never were. I've got King Saul in my head and God's rejection of him, only to be replaced by the red-headed runt of Jesse's brood of boys (were there any girls?). I envision the disciples replacing Judas with Matthias (sp?) whom we never hear from again. I hear frustrations about keys, gate codes, facilities requests, more policies and I seethe. I realize that structure has a purpose, but I discern where the Pharisees became "blind guides" when they lost sight of why the institution was so important.

So I look up the reference in Hebrews 4 about Sabbath rest being outside the structure of one day preparing to argue the error of our ways. And then I read from Romans 14 and realize that my dissension from the one particular member who's driving all this (who said during the meeting: "The church where I grew up was a big church" - aha! - that's his cultural bend) falls under the banner of "disputable matters."

Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters.

I looked up the original words from verse one and found them intriguing. "diakrisis dialogismos" is literally "dialoging (or diliberating) disputations"

Now - who's "weak"??? Well, that gives the advantage to the one reading it. It may be a bit of Paul's persistent use of irony where the reader is allowed to be smug. Rarely will one read it and go "hey, that's me" (we only wish).

Well, I certainly won't change the response. So now I know what I'm dealing with. That puts me at ease and I can then hope and pray that the other person will eventually be enlightened as they grow and mature.



Monday, October 1, 2007

“Left Toin at Albakoikee”

We’re trying to see all the “toins” and be courageous enough to make them. IOW-We are reevaluating the umbrella, which will be over the operation of this envisioned venue of espresso wafting the air while God does a transforming work in people’s lives.

The franchise format is becoming less appealing to us. After reading the 1-inch thick “circular” given to us by Moby’s CEO – and after talking to some dissatisfied employees and owners, we sense that it may not be an equitable trade-off to sacrifice the innovative expression of our vision for high-priced “expertise.” We think that many of the accompanying “products” we are required to sell, are distracting to the appeal of a non-conventional style of ministry. To be quite blunt – they encroach the “cheesy” barrier.

We think that will repel seekers, rather than draw them in. We are maintaining the model of John 1:14 where Jesus took on our existence thus releasing his rightful grasp of equality with God. He “became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” We want to do the same. The “churchiness” and “I’m saved, you ain’t” wall needs to have a Berliner demise once and for all.

So – it looks as though we will do this independently. Not that we think we are able to work in isolation. Lord knows there’s too many Lone Rangers out there. We have talked with existing coffee shop owners, both secular and Christian, who are in that region of the country. They have consented that they are willing to help us out by consultation. So our thinking now is to purchase some quality equipment and then learn first how to make a dynamite latte.

As far as the financial picture – things are shaping up a bit. The giving is at a trickle, but we’ve heard from many who have stated they will be making donations very soon. We had one couple offer to give us their 10 year old car. That gives us the option to give that car to Jordan and sell my 98 minivan for our needs, or vice versa.

Keep praying for the sale of our home. Our realtor states that our house is doing better since it is “showing” and others aren’t. We haven’t had what you might call “nibbles,” but the bobber is moving a little bit. It’s difficult to determine if there’s a fish below the surface, or if the wind it making it move.

YHWH A'-gap-e,


Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Tevye was Right

In the final scene of "Fiddler On The Roof" - the Anatevkans are gathered as they mourn the necessity to depart their cherished town.

As is true to form with the dark comedic format this tragic story tells, the town's spiritual leader (No name given other than "Our Beloved Rabbi") remarks: "Our forefathers have been forced out of many, many places at a moment's notice." Tevye has a typical dichotomous simple/profound response: "Maybe that's why we always wear our hats."

As we face the Abrahamic dilemma of "going to a place we do not know" we trust and take comfort in God's promises. They are not mere poetry - rather revelation to rely on with a proven track record for multiple generations of followers.

Among the promises are the words found in Isaiah 45:2 &3

I will go before you
and will level the mountains;
I will break down gates of bronze
and cut through bars of iron.

I will give you the treasures of darkness,
riches stored in secret places,
so that you may know that I am the LORD,
the God of Israel, who summons you by name.



Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Java Connection Blog

We've set up a site where people can get updates on our progress and support.

We're trying to set it up where people can subscribe and it will tell them when new posts are -- well, posted (I had a friend inform me he "doesn't do blogs" because it requires going to it and just seeing what has already been seen).

You can link to it with the URL -

Friday, September 7, 2007

The God of Peace

We are soothed, Lord. You have such a perfect parental way of letting go and then intervening. How is it that you accomplish your perfect ways through fallible creatures made in your image?

Hallel lu YHWH Shalom

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Leah and Rachel?

More options seem to be popping up in the near horizon. The franchise approach will put what seems to be an attainable time frame on everything. But other considerations are being presented before us that will necessitate the Godly virtue of patience (something I keep asking God to give me and without delay ;-D )

I think about the Hebrews characterization of faith and it puts in mind part of Jacob's story. I guess he thought he was being extremely patient when he worked for Laban for 7 years in order to marry Rachel. He ends up with a "not so fast" experience that would certainly tend to derail a few and create a nasty litigation situation in our Western society. But he perseveres - marries Leah and then works another 7 years until he can marry Rachel (ix-nay the igamy-bay).

Let's see what unfolds. I thought we were on a distinct path - but I should know better. Surprises wouldn't be surprises if they didn't surprise us.

Skano en ego,


Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Provocative Pistos

The writer of Hebrews begins what human beings have structured into "chapter 11" (hope there's no correlation - yikes!) with "Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for."

The writer goes on to list examples - but there is no final resolution in the context to life in the mode of taking in oxygen and giving off carbon dioxide (might as well be monoxide ;-D ). There is always a sojourning aspect.(v 13 And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth... v 16 Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.")

TWICE - it says that none of them received what has been promised (vv 13 & 39).

So what good is our stepping out in faith and going from a mostly conventional and convenient context to a destiny full of uncertainties and what appears as instability??? - the LONGING. And God is not ashamed to be called "their" God.

It has dawned on me recently that God's greatest Kingdom (reigning) moments were achieved with and through those who were mobile and a bit uncertain. A look back at the Story reveals that all the trouble took place when people were settled and surrounded by secure edifices.

Now we're at a point where faith/believe ("pistos") is provoking us. We are all over the map emotionally (excited, angry and trusting). We thought we communicated our vision with integrity. We discussed the option of selling our house (telling people that we were downsizing) and then making known the direction we sensed to venture out. No. That would not be just.

So we inform the church that we are pursing our vision and that we will be conscientious to make every effort to provide a smooth transition - and when we depart will be contingent on the sale of our house. Lord - what happened? Did we do this wrong??? Some have said so. What other way could we have done this? You're in control (I think). Why would a leadership cluster decide that 90 days is long enough? I'm still trying to figure out - who's the "hoser" and who is the "hosee?"

I thought I knew what faith was as I have taught and encouraged people for 30 years. Now I'm pondering what it really is. I know what I hope for and I have a pretty good idea of what I want to see. The "sure" and the "certain" part are evading me now.



Wednesday, August 22, 2007

We'll Take Prayer Anytime!

I've made known to more than a few the needs you can see in my previous post (August 10th).

I was warned that some will understand and some will not. And there are those who need to process and digest what it is - exactly - that we are doing.

One particular person - within our mutual large circle - stated: "I almost expected to see a deposit slip at the end of your message ;-)" and then added: "I have never asked for a dime from anyone in my life." I thought about the comment and realized how often this particular person has asked me to pray for them. "Resource is a relative thing." - I thought.

We realize that not everyone will be influenced to provide resources for things that demand capital. That's okay with us. But we DO believe in the influence and power of prayer as a supreme resource. So please do that before you do anything else. With that, we'll make it fine.

"Keep falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, 'Who is the LORD ?' Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God."
-Proverbs 30:8 & 9

Friday, August 10, 2007

It's All Starting to Take Shape

Well, we've both been seeking clarification of a mutual vision that has been forming in both of our hearts over the last 2 years. We are at the point where we think God is pointing us. That's why I haven't written much. We've been scouting and fact-finding. This is what we're pursuing at this juncture in our lives.

A few years ago we both began noticing that coffee shops were becoming a growing trend. Why would people pay $4.00 for a cup of coffee? We began to understand first hand after participating in the establishments ourselves. It wasn't just about a beverage. It was much more. People love to make a coffee shop a part of their day, whether hanging out with friends, or just passing through to grab a savory hot beverage. It's hard to feel like a stranger in such an intimate setting.

An idea started brewing. What if we could somehow use this type of relaxed environment to connect with unchurched people? We believe that a critical element of sharing the greatest message of all is being able to have uninhibited rapport. A large population of people will still never set foot in church no matter how hard we've tried to get them there with marketable consumeristic strategies. The coffee shop environment is ideal for connecting and potentially reaching many more people. We started kicking around the idea of a Christian coffee shop ministry with some Christian friends. But nothing materialized at that time.

We weren't discouraged, but continued to dream about and discuss the idea. Having read several cutting edge books that discussed current thoughts and trends on reaching cultures who have little interest in the church, our idea gained velocity. We decided it was time to do some serious research. This time we took a trip to North Carolina to survey some locations, study working coffee shops, and talk with a budding Christian coffee franchise developer. We also met with a small group of believers who were already ministering in a coffee house type of ministry (minus the coffee).

After lots of prayer and research, we feel God calling us to pull up roots and do something new and out of the box by starting a coffee shop ministry in Hickory, North Carolina working with this core group of believers. It's a risky venture, and involves selling our home with no sure promise of support or success. But we wanted to let our friends, family members and acquaintances know what were up to. We're developing a brochure that better explains our coffee shop ministry in more detail and how it will work.

Here's the data we will be putting in the brochure.

The Rudiments

People need and want community. They feel safe and comfortable in a small, coffee shop setting where they can sit and enjoy each other's company and a delectable drink. We believe this is an excellent environment for connecting with people who may never set foot in church and for sharing the Christian message with them. We also think we can fulfill the Great Commission of making disciples more effectively if we're making coffee at the same time. Our mission is to create an appealing, professional looking coffee shop where people will want to linger not only for a cup of coffee, but to learn, and latch on to the Christian message and its principles.

We will work in cooperation with a small coffee house ministry called Cup of Life associated with Living Hope Covenant Church in Hickory, North Carolina. This small body of believers has already been hosting innovative worship services and Christian concerts in a former restaurant facility. They plan to join forces with us, utilizing our establishment to continue to provide Christian music and a worship community along with other ministry opportunities such as small groups, benevolence outreach, prayer ministry and more.

The Beverage Business

We have researched a new and growing franchise called Moby's Coffee TM. Moby's mission is similar to ours, to provide professional quality coffee, drinks and pastries in an inviting environment with Christian music events on the side. Our plan is to open either a Moby's It will be a for profit business that will hopefully help us pay for necessities such as living space, food, gas, health care and other every day living expenses. franchise or a similar, independent coffee shop that is in or near Hickory.

The Ministry

In addition to offering worship and music gatherings, we envision other ministry too. Imagine an inviting place where people (including non believers) can turn in prayer requests or have someone listen to them and pray with them privately. Or a place that would be a hub for launching small communities of in-home study groups where people can learn about the Bible, grow in their faith and even find support from addictive and destructive behaviors. Imagine a coffee shop where the regulars could bring benevolence offerings of canned and dried goods or make a donation to a highlighted charity of the month, where people learn to care about people and in the process live out what it means to engage Christ's love by action?

How the Coffee Shop and Ministry Interface

As of this writing, we are still working out the details on how we will collaborate with Living Hope. Living Hope is willing to switch locations in the Hickory area, and may be able to help pay partial rent on the coffee shop or a small stipend to Jeff for his teaching ministry in exchange for sharing the coffee shop space. But they are too small to support a full-time pastor's salary. We have made the decision to invest the money we make from the proceeds of the sale of our California home in a Moby's Coffee franchise, the headquarters of which is based in Mount Airy, North Carolina. The proceeds from goods sold via the coffee shop business will help support us and the business itself will be set up as a for profit business.

One of Moby's stipulations is that the franchisee/owner must have regular Christian music events and worship gatherings. Living Hope plans to help with this as well as with small groups. In addition, we will work with this group to develop more methods of reaching and teaching people about Christ and multiplying more communities.

The Gap

We are stepping out in faith and what we discern as obedience. Our new ministry is a unique hybrid and somewhat unprecedented. It is essentially a church/ministry launch. After the sale of our home, we will have enough for most of the basic start up costs of the franchise, but not for the extra costs of a home, cost of living or for ministry expenses. Like missionaries, we need to raise support for the extras in order to commence on this innovative venture. Unlike missionaries, and more similar to church plants, we and the ministry will eventually become self-supporting. With a good start, the need for continued support will be devoted more to prayer and encouragement and less to financial resources. At this point, we believe that we will be self-supporting within 12 months.

After much and often intense prayer, as well as careful consideration, we feel compelled that God is giving us a strong green light but also stirring in us the need to share our vision and support opportunity with friends. So, here are specifics you can pray for or support.

Transportation. We will donate our 1998 mini van to our son, Jordan, who is still enrolled in DeVry University in Freemont,CA in order for him to have transportation. We will need a second vehicle once we relocate so that we can both work. Estimated cost of a used van or truck would be $5,000.

Moving expenses. We estimate the cost to move from Benicia, CA to Hickory, NC to be about $9,000.

Housing. We will most likely rent a dwelling place first and then look for a home to buy later. The estimated funds needed for housing for the first year is $15,000.

Health insurance. Neither the ministry nor the coffee shop provides health insurance so we ,and our one dependent, Jordan, will still need health insurance estimated at $300 a month.

Temporary income. While we are getting established, we will need income for groceries, gas and other expenses.

Here are several options for how you can help.

  • Pray for us and the needs expressed above.

  • Sign up for our email updates.

Contribute financially with either a one time gift of a 1-year pledge

We realize that the final product may look very different from what we have in our heads, but that is often the case when God unfolds his plans. We truly appreciate your prayers.


Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Rachel and Noah

I was pretty good at posting weekly. Now I am (as I knew would happen) posting weakly.

My oldest daughter, Rachel, married Noah Matthews on June 30th. The wedding was a "Christ-Party!" I'm going to copy and paste part of a message sent to me by a long-time family friend. I will change names to maintain anonymity.

[Boy! You and Teena sure know how to throw a party! What fun!! What a beautiful bride and handsome groom...and the ceremony was so special to them and gave us all an intimate feeling of being part of their vows...a sense of community in coming together to support this new marriage and its future. It was a very special day and you both should be very proud and yet humbled by these fabulous young people. I do have one question however: did it bother either one of you that your daughter married a man named Noah and God blessed it with a thunder/lightning/rain storm? I mean ... have you asked if he has plans for an ark?? ... Is there a DVD of the wedding? Is there a DVD of the slide presentation? I would love to have either or both and would gladly pay whatever it might cost. I want to see them myself, of course, but I so much want to share them with the girls ... particularly X---- who just brightened up and beamed when I told her a bit about the ceremony. Certainly she and X----- are far more spiritual than X--- and X-- (don't tell them that I said that!) and I know that theirs is a faith based marriage and Christ is in their hearts and in their home. ... Nuff already. If there is a DVD or two, please let me know. Keep in touch. I can't tell you how wonderful it was to be with you and yours and how very, very welcome I felt. It's all part of the Stewart Clan magic I think! And I am so blessed to be enriched by it. luv ya ... X---- ]

Rachel and Noah made it very clear how committed they are to following the teachings of Jesus. The added festive atmosphere with very casual surroundings (in a barn with the "party" wearing flip-flops) created an authenticity I've not seen in any "ceremony." They exchanged vows, washed each other's feet and took communion before everything was "official."

It was an added blessing to have people in the same room from both sides of our family that we usually have to travel to see in separate venues. The meeting of Noah's family was also a joy. Larry and April will be very loving in-laws to Rachel and good friends for Teena and me.

Stay tuned for the next blog. It may have data regarding a new chapter for us.


Friday, June 8, 2007

Kelsey Smith

Less than a week ago, an 18-year old girl/young woman was abducted, forced into her car, whisked away and slain. The news caught my attention because it occurred in Overland Park, KS. I grew up in Overland Park at 7901 W. 91st St.

Kelsey was shopping at a Target store in the Oak Park Mall at 95th and Quivera. The mall was built when I was in my freshman year at Johnson County Community College nearby. My wedding ring was purchased in that mall at Helzberg's. The last time I remember being at that mall was 27 years ago when Teena was pregnant with Rachel. Five of us (Jay, Marilyn, 4-month old Elizabeth, Teena and I) went to see the movie Popeye (with Robin Williams). When we were leaving the mall, we witnessed a single car accident in which a 17-year old girl was killed.

Some would surmise that there is a "curse" secluded to such a location because of the 2 events. I don't think that way. There's a universal curse that is indiscriminant to location (you can read about it in Genesis 3). For me, it was a bringing home type of emotion since I knew the area. Similar to what my friend James Coleman felt when he saw the news footage of the massacre at Virginia Tech 2 months ago (James was an engineer student there in the 80s).

I didn't realize until a few days later that I knew Kelsey's father, Greg Smith. When I was about 7 or 8, his family moved into the house across the street from us at 7900 W 91st St.. He was about 3 at the time. Jay (my twin bro) and I were the "big kids across the street." I remember times where we would play football with him and another neighbor boy and would have fun dragging them around on our legs as they tried to tackle us. His parents were committed followers of Christ.

I grew up and left for the Navy in 1973 and saw him from time to time when I would visit home. I believe he also joined the Navy (I can't remember if he was a Seal or on a sub). I do recall his mom expressing concern to me about some wild oat sowing and such, but apparently he survived.

On the news the showed a conference where the family expressed thanks to law enforcement and volunteers. Greg read from Psalm 46 (the "what happened God? I know you're still there" passage). Later I found out that the news conference was held at Hillcrest Covenant Church. Teena and I started our journey together there, as I was a youth pastor at Hillcrest. I also went to the family web site and saw numerous references to scripture and the journey of following Christ.

I can't imagine what they're going through. My own children are still alive. I often uttered a very selfish prayer that asked that God would spare my entire family of tragic peril. My prayer is that they would receive peace and strength but above all - opportunities to reflect the light of God's love which many would doubt due to this circumstance. It seems that this is already happening.



Friday, June 1, 2007

Increasingly Gray Temple

Teena casually remarked how she noticed that my hair is getting grayer.

My eldest is getting married in 4 weeks. We just received a high school graduation notice in the mail for Brooke Justice. She is the niece who was the cute little girl at the family reunion at Ocean Isle Beach, NC. The late Vicki Koehmstedt and the late Bill Lanning arranged the first one "just" a few years ago (2? 5? no - 14!).

I spoke last Sunday - part of a series called "Dealing With Doubt." I opened my message with a music video of Kansas singing "Dust in the Wind." It was ironic, yet fitting that the music video (they haven't been around that long - have they?) looked very dated with Kerry Livgen, Steve Walsh and especially Robby Steinhardt sporting very long hair. It was equally fitting that the current group only has a portion of the original members.

I'm 53.5. 8 years beyond the age Teena's sister lived; 3 years beyond the age that my late father-in-law lived; 9 years short of the age my father lived; 22 years short of the age my mother lived. Average these out and I'm due for departure in 5 years! Dang!

Death doesn't bother me near as much as the prospect of "dying." The more important matter is to be wise in my stewardship with time, mental ability and physical mobility.

Teena and I are praying about a new and risky venture that places the value of this kind of stewardship in high priority. There is something (better stated "Someone") driving this in both of our inner beings. We like what we're doing now, but have a yearning that there is something more in the area of sacrifice and obedience that needs to be explored.

We are both excited about the depth of the principle jumping to life in 2 Corinthians 4:16:
Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day."

We're NOT losing heart - we're gaining it! We ARE wasting away outwardly, yet... we ARE being renewed day by day. There are a couple of internal teenagers coming to life in 2 who are on the AARP mailing list.

We are going to "Die Trying." Stay tuned!


Friday, May 25, 2007

Family Correlation

This is not related to the last post. ;-D

This morning at CC we talked about the passage in 1 Timothy that qualifies leadership in the church based on leadership at home (within the family). Here are the verses - chapter 3, verse 4 & 5.

He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God's church?)

Tall order! I am now looking back since my 3 children are adults. But I can see where I've been and what I've gained. The rigorous dynamics within the family are useful in leadership settings - especially in a multi-leadership context. You learn the virtues mentioned in the other verses preceding these verses (especially in the rearing and upbringing of the various mutations revealed in offspring).

It occured to me that before I became a husband and a father, I thought I had keen insight that qualified me for effective leadership. I didn't know how sophmoric I was until I began to work with other young developing leaders. I realized they didn't have the needed domestic resource that is critical in honing the virtues of "temperance, self-control, respectability, hospitality, teachability, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money" (vv 2 & 3).

What a valuable staple spouse and children are. No wonder God said to be fruitful and multiply. Survival of humanity has much broader benefits than merely occupying the earth.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Guys and Godfather

Less than a week ago, one of my umpire friends tagged a Godfather trivia question at the end of one of his multi recipient posts (he's the secretary of our high school group and the assignor for our summer games). There were about half a dozen responses to the question.

Out of that, he lumps together a small group of guys to swap GF trivia. It is beginning to network to others. I added my brother, and he added one of his friends. There is some talk about trying to get a group together to watch the movies with food and beverages (almost like a bunch of girls watching a Hugh Grant/Julia Roberts genre flick).

What is it about this story that grabs so many men? Is it the combination of conquest with rivalry and family-on-the-side mixed in?

Such a curiosity.


Jeffy "Big Ears" Stewartini

Friday, May 11, 2007

Non-Fiction TV

This morning at Cholesterol Cafe, we talked about what the concept of "survivor" is and discussed the meaning of Jesus' words about giving us life "to the full."

The conversation began by talking about the popular television program "Survivor." I would have loved to contribute to the banter, but I just can't watch that show. I watched it once and thought - "I see the formula and it looks like broken and redemptive humanity on display." I can't get past the knowledge that the show has a producer, and a crew influencing every "spontaneous" event that unfolds before millions of viewers. No thanks - it bores me! Same thing with all the fuss about "Lost." I heard someone I work with state that they "tivo" every episode and sit down to watch it later in the week "and please don't tell me what happened."

Whatever floats your boat, but that ain't me!

As you can see by the title of this blog, I don't quite blend in with the particular and contextual "mainstream" on this. I seem to be in the minority.

If I try to converse with others about the shows I watch (like Mythbusters, Forensic Files, North Mission Road, Dirty Jobs, The Investigators and other real "reality" shows), it usually results in a polite and ignorant nod - or the third-eye look. I feel like I'm in a very small minority when it comes to TV entertainment.

Let's see if I can explain my wiring - which is subject to scrutiny and correction or resonation and understanding. I've tried to do a self-analysis on this quirkiness of mine - and this is what I have concluded. This is me...

Non-fiction is not subject to manipulation or conniving. It simply displays things they way they happen or are. Long-held notions can be dispelled and insights gained by passive observation. This is more consistent with how we live our lives. We can plan to decide certain things, but our decisions are most often reshaped so that we navigate according to conditions before us.

"Survivor" and "Lost" are productions that simulate reality. Viewers find themselves drawn in to the drama of adaptive human behavior, but forget that the people are there based on recruitment and audition. The settings are chosen dependent on advance research and those involved have to be monitored (especially in our litigate-happy culture).

It's artificial humanity. Recent history has shown that those who gain fame (or infamy) on how they adapt and thrive through difficult challenges on the small screen, fall flat on their faces with mundane challenges away from cameras and selected remote locations.

I guess I'm much more entertained with the latter. Case in point: I'm actually enjoying the current situation with Paris Hilton's jail sentence. There is much more intrigue for me to hear she and her mother cry "foul" - for this petition to the Governator to pardon her and commute here sentence - to hear Rosie O’Donnell slough off the irresponsibility of driving under the influence. I'm actually gaining more insight and pleasure from this, than any production which requires my time and attention for several minutes when networks schedule its "airing."

Enough rambling (I love the freedom of blogging for this reason. It's up to you to make sense of what you read). It is my belief that salt and light become more intensified by looking at what we do and who we are from the perspective of the One who "emptied himself."

Make any sense?



Friday, May 4, 2007

dialogismos with myself

His fictitious name is Patrick Morris. I met him when he and his fiancée came to seek premarital counseling. She had been attending our church for a few years. She became a follower of Christ within those years. Both had been married before.

I enjoyed our times together. We talked about our mutual trust in Christ and other mundane things that we enjoyed in life (he liked archery).

About a month before the scheduled wedding, they decided they could not wait and hold off on their affections for each other - so they went to Reno and eloped. They informed me at our next session. I told them that it was virtuous of them to do so, since biblically it is stated that it is better for them to marry, than to have an intense fire of physical expression held in check.

So we opted for a ceremony that would be a "blessing of a civil marriage." It was a very festive event. They even treated my wife and me to a night at a fru-fru hotel in CA wine country with body massage included.

I have no idea what happened to Patrick after that!

He became a pharisaical zealot. He would constantly lambaste other followers for not living up to what he thought was an appropriate expression of obedience to Christ.

At one point, his wife consulted me and expressed concern about his demeanor. She lamented that she felt he misrepresented himself while they were dating. That the true Patrick was hiding and only showed up after the wedding.

Others from our fellowship have had negative encounters with Patrick. This tempted me to be reciprocally antagonistic toward him. But I held off, knowing it was not in the interest of Christ's Spirit within me.

This morning, I am at the "Cholesterol Cafe" Men's breakfast. Each week we meet, go over a biblical principle and discuss how it is applied in our lives. Then we engage in mundane matters and mutual interest. About an hour and 20 minutes after the start of our time together, I see Patrick getting out of his car in the parking lot. He has his usual carry-on of KJV bible and some other black leather book. My first temptation is to say something negative to the others about him. God's Spirit screams "NO!" in my heart. I hear "speak to one another..." and so as he sits down adjacent to us, I look to him, wave and say "Hi Patrick." He waves back.

We continue our light conversations, when out of the blue, he pops his head over the lattice work atop the divider and asks: "How come you guys never talk about Jesus?" Looking up to see his face to determine if he means it in jest, I ask: "What did you say?" He repeats the question with even more consternation about his countenance.

"Out of the blue!" I'm discerning, as I see the downcast spirit ripple with the other men there. So I simply and confidently said: "Lighten up Patrick. Read Romans 14."

He sits back down and eventually asks the waitress to move to another table.

The brother next to me asks: "Why is it that some who believe are accounting for others and not themselves?" I explained, as best as I could, the history of Patrick's rantings with other Christians.

Now - the dialogue. Is this God speaking to us? Is this the adversary disguising as an angel of light? Is this a person who loves Christ, but has some kind of dysfunctional issue? I am hanging my hat on I Cor. 13 which emphasizes faith, hope and love and downplays knowledge.

I cannot figure this one out.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Campus Marshals?

Many opinions on how to "prevent this from happening again" - - the majority weighing in that "we can't."

"Hey Cho - where you goin' with that gun in your hand?" cannot be stopped when there is intelligence and scheming mixed in with a demented and deranged mind. I'm holding my breath in anticipation of succeeding copycats.

Among the many pundit sound bytes on the news, I heard the idea of trained and qualified teachers and students with concealed weapons. Just like the clandestine sky marshals on all domestic flights. Initially, I thought “no way” but then reconsidered. I’m sure the extreme gun opponents would resist with vigor and volume.

What about having that or at least those mechanisms that police use where barbs are fired at a suspect and electricity immobilizes them?

The way our culture is going, something needs to be set in place that will serve as a deterrent or at least create some kind of hesitation in the minds of the Cho Seung Hui’s among us. I realize that this world can be dangerous and unsafe (Mesheach warns us about “trouble” down here numerous times) – but I think we can take measures to curb this kind of extreme darkness.

Is it possible?


Tuesday, April 17, 2007

You Gotta Minute?

“Pastor, I’m concerned…” These are three words coming from the lips of those under "our care" that create tension for every pastor. A deluge of subsequent words that convey a personal dismay over a church wide matter or a personality challenge most often follows these three words.

There have been times where I was grateful for a person taking the time and courage to address an issue that needed attention. In such cases, damage and unnecessary trouble were avoided.

There have also been times where the perceived issue was a result of unfounded fear, needless worry, and even unhealthy self-righteousness. The pastoral task of providing guidance and direction can be invigorating and at the same time bewildering.

In his book “Great Leader – Great Teacher” (Moody 2006) Gary Bredfeldt brilliantly likens pastoral leadership to driving in a blinding “whiteout” snow-storm (something few coastal Californians understand). I’ve driven in many-a. Since you have very little to guide you, your objective is to veer neither to the right nor the left as you progress toward your destination.

Bradfeldt states:

Leadership is especially challenging in the twenty-first century….Leadership has never been easy. If it were, leaders would be in abundance. No, leadership has always been a challenge, and great leaders have been few in number. That is because leadership demands discernment, and discernment demands a knowledge of good and evil, right and wrong, truth and error, and that which is wise and/or unwise. Discernment is the ability to choose the best among highly attractive alternatives. Great leaders know that some paths, though eye-catching at the beginning, turn out to be dead-ends – or even worse, a tragic misdirection leading to unexpected consequences.

Leadership is indeed challenging. Pastors find direction in such passages as Acts 20:28:

“Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.”

Notice the care starts with self. That is something that needs to be modeled. 1 Peter 5:2&3 also gives us leadership insight:

“Be shepherds of God's flock that is under your care, serving as overseers—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.”

Combining the two principles, it is easy to see that we need to begin with looking inside our own lives and having that provide an example.

It has often been my experience that those who express “concerns” are fearful of “tragic misdirection leading to unexpected consequences.” With that, I’ll ask us to think back . A somewhat recent occurrence of “concern” came about with the publication and release of Dan Brown’s “The DaVinci Code.” I shared in that concern. What I thought might happen did not occur. Many Christ Followers were equally “concerned” that the firestorm would take time and much effort to quench and that the Church would suffer a serious setback.

What happened…? God surprised us! Something we never imagined occurred. The surprise came about when many secular sources quickly criticized the blatant inaccuracies and revisionism used by Brown. “60 Minutes” and “The History Channel” were among those who discredited the writing and movie. Most had – at best – a waning interest in the survival and longevity of the church. The controversy had a very rapid demise. It is very likely that you had forgotten about this book and movie until I mentioned it.

A current topic that is creating misunderstanding and invigorated conversation among Christ Followers is the concept of the “Emerging/Emergent Church.” Just go to any search engine and you will have hundreds of thousands of links provided. Everyone has an opinion on it. Among the opinions you will find both support and “concern.” Depending on what and how you read, you may find yourself identifying with either.

Having read and benefited greatly from many authors who would fall into the “Emerging Church” category, I have to say that presently I would not consider myself as one that has “concern.” The majority of what I have read has caused me to look more closely and probe more deeply into the teachings of Jesus in the 4 gospels and the rest of the New Testament. I will acknowledge that having read some of the blogs and critiques online, I’ve been prompted to listen and read more cautiously. I have seen a few red flags, but not anything that should derail what I sincerely believe is the curious work of God.

Much of what I read and hear reminds me of what took place and caused the church to grow rapidly in its infancy (the “Apostolic Period”). The pages of the Gospels and Acts have been given a renewed animation that was lulled in the past. In those pages we can see the curious work of God breaking down every cultural barrier as His transforming power goes to work in the hearts and lives of men and women once considered as “unclean” (See Acts 10 & 11). We see people actually trying to live out the challenging words of Jesus by dying to self (see Mt. 19:21, Acts 2:45 & 4:32) and ministering to others. The result is that multitudes are being saved.

Even more illuminating, we can look back now and recognize how God worked his plan to invade our world by sending Jesus - outside of what we have perceived and dictated as his proper template throughout the whole bible. God visits Abimelech, the pagan king, to protect and correct Abram; Saul expels mediums from the land, yet he visits one to hear from the deceased Samuel; The Magi (astrologers) visit and worship Jesus as an infant. Yes, we scratch our heads and don’t quite get why the revealed Word contains such stories, but God is much bigger than our perceived templates. It’s all part of his sovereign way to provide the means of our redemption through the Messiah – Jesus Christ.

I could go on and am willing to discuss this at length if you have any further interest.

In my effort to obey by looking inside my own life and provide an example, I share what has helped me when I am challenged by “concerns.”

I ask myself “Why am I using the word? What is causing the “concern?” Is there an actual threat to the Body of Christ where dark consequences are beginning to take seed? If so, there should be prayerful follow up.

Or is it perhaps shrouding anxiety? I have to ask that because I have learned many times that I have been anxious (e.g. The DaVinci Code). There are times that I forget God’s insights provided in his Word. I am not casting my anxieties upon him knowing he cares for me (1 Peter 5:6&7). I become anxious for everything, not praying with thanksgiving (Philippians 4:6). I am worrying about tomorrow ignoring the life and opportunities that are right in front of me with the present (Matthew 6:33&34). I keep learning that God is much bigger than my concern or even the combined concern of many. His promise extends immeasurably (Greek “huper-ek perissos huper” – literally “above and out, far beyond above”) beyond all we ask or even think. (Ephesians 3:20).

I will put myself “out there” by acknowledging that perhaps I may end up being mistaken about seriously considering the challenging innovations to clearly and relevantly communicate the Good News of new life in Jesus Christ. In my ongoing vision and passion to be consistently aware of the ever-changing culture (which God has always and can still transcend) I can seem “trendy.” That is why when I read and research, I am continually praying for discernment so that I do not drive into the debilitating proverbial snow on either side.

In concluding this post, I do find comfort once again in the book of Acts, chapter 5, verses 33-39 - where God’s immeasurable power and will prevails over human power and will.

When they heard this, they were furious and wanted to put them to death. But a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, who was honored by all the people, stood up in the Sanhedrin and ordered that the men be put outside for a little while. Then he addressed them: "Men of Israel, consider carefully what you intend to do to these men. Some time ago Theudas appeared, claiming to be somebody, and about four hundred men rallied to him. He was killed, all his followers were dispersed, and it all came to nothing. After him, Judas the Galilean appeared in the days of the census and led a band of people in revolt. He too was killed, and all his followers were scattered. Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God."



Fact or Fiction?

This is just like Columbine. I don't mean the obvious. Watching Fox News last night, the opinions - at the very least and perhaps more, matched the number of people who had to offer them. One gunman? Geraldo proffered the possiblilty (while qualifying his notions so that he can replay the sound byte and say "I never really said...") that police went arry based on shaky eye witness accounts that there was a "white man with greasy hair, leaving the scene in a black pick-up truck with farm license plate." Then he shows a website with an Asian man who owns an arsenal of weapons, but "Police say that this isn't anyone they're looking at." Why show it?

Information and misinformation. We are all prone to turn the former into the latter.

In the aftermath of Columbine, there were stories about the late Cassie Bernal. She was asked if she believed in God. When she affirmed that she did, she was slain with a bullet. "No wait! That wasn't Cassie. That was Rachel Scott."

To this day, no one is really certain.

One of my pet peeves are the number of forwarded e-mails from fellow followers of Mesheach that contain stories or pleas for money or cards that turn out to be hoaxes.

Who starts these? How do they run rampant and unchecked? And more than any other thing why do people readily buy it, if it appears to be light?

The lesson for me? I know that I am capable of only "knowing in part" and that "We know that we all possess knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know. But the man who loves God is known by God."


Monday, April 16, 2007

Mesheach's Tough Words on Tragedy

Like the principle in "A Few Good Men" about truth and the ability to handle it. This comes from the one who IS truth:

1Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. 2Jesus answered, "Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? 3I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. 4Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? 5I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish."

- Luke 13:1-5

From Benicia to Blacksburg and Back

It's been one of those rare days where my thought toward self is very deep. Naturally, every single day involves a majority of self-centered moments. I start out mopey and worm-eating. No one seems to take any interest in what I have to offer and the insights God is giving me. So they're just for me and not to pass on?

- perhaps -

So I get home for lunch and the greatest person on the face of this earth during my lifetime informs me of the events in Blacksburg. I just say "sick" and then return to my inwardly turned perspective.

Now it's hitting me - especially reading of what seemed to have taken place just hours ago.

Darkness! Mine and his. Mine is just as dark without the severe and far-reaching consequences. It's true that "there is not one who does good, no, not one."

The blood-curdling screams of today are only a part of what prompted YHWH Mesheach to cry out in an Aramaic tongue: "Eloi! Eloi! Lama Sabacthani!"

The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, "Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" - John 1:29

Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi,


Might as well

Been thinkin' 'bout bloggin' - Well - here I am.

In my life I have been called "weird, unique, creative, innovative, crazy, interesting, multi-talented, funny, deep," among many things. The one that sticks in my soul is the one that is closest to being "biblical" (my favorite book - it rocks!). I had one of my many mentors tell me. "'re cut out of a different cloth."

He told them this parable: "No one tears a patch from a new garment and sews it on an old one. If he does, he will have torn the new garment, and the patch from the new will not match the old.

-Luke 5:36