30 Years of New Life Church: A Thank You Letter

NLC_Pikes_Peak Photo

This last Sunday as I was in the church foyer, a South Korean friend of mine came up to me for a chat. I’ve known and worshipped with her for 10 years, so this was nothing out of the ordinary. She’s every bit of 75 years old and no more than 5’0’’ tall. This particular Sunday she was wearing one of those big, Russian fur caps with earflaps that tie above the head or under the chin, and a long winter coat. It’s cold, so I hugged her tight and thanked her for the lovely Christmas card.

But talking to her this time was different. In her scratch English she told me a story I had never heard before.

It was somewhere around 1990 and our church had just bought a piece of ground to build a sanctuary. A place to put down some roots. Up to that point we had hopped around from place to place, worshipping wherever we could—a year here, three years there. A basement. An old hotel ballroom with threadbare carpet. A commercial space situated between a bar on one side and a liquor store on the other. Wanderers, probably more like the children of Israel than we could ever know at the time.

But not anymore! That was all going to change now. Foxes have holes, and birds have nests, and now, by the grace of God, we’ll have a place to lay our heads!

But this is where her story stopped me in my tracks.

She told me about a group of people that would meet at the newly purchased land at 4 a.m. every morning to pray. She told me that they’d walk the whole plot of ground and how many of them would lay in the dirt field, in this undeveloped and up-to-this-point outskirt-ish part of town, and cry out to God to make it a place of salvation and healing, of restoration and joy. A place where the lonely would be set into family, where the overlooked would be situated in the center of God’s love as demonstrated by this group of people.

Did you hear me?

They lay in the field…on clods of dirt…in the darkness that accompanies 4 a.m.…and they prayed. Holy people on holy ground.

When I heard that all I could think was, Someone has got to thank these people! I pulled her close and wrapped my arms around her. I thanked her for her prayers those many years ago. Then I started thinking, We’re all here today because a bunch of people took God seriously and prayed resolutely.

And indeed, those prayers are still being answered. This coming Sunday our church, New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado, will celebrate our thirtieth anniversary. And there are just so many people that must be thanked:

To Ted and Gayle Haggard, our founding pastors, who had the guts to pray and fast and seek the Lord for what He was saying, and who had the gritty faith to leave the life they had known in Baker, Louisiana to plant a church in Colorado Springs, thank you! We live in a world that often remembers people for their worst moments, but when I think of you I can’t help but thank God for the enduring gift you have given so many people, myself included.

To every person at New Life Church, past or present, who has ever devoted a moment of your time to serve another person in the Name of Jesus, thank you. You may have been setting up chairs or making a hospital visit; you may have been opening your home to share a meal or caring for small children as their parents were hearing the word of God; you may have been vacuuming the floors or praying for someone that sits in the row behind you, but whatever you were doing “for one of the least of these, your brothers and sisters,” you were doing it unto Jesus himself.

To every person at New Life Church, past or present, who has ever given a dollar when the little white bucket was passed, thank you. It has become easy in our day to be skeptical about “the offering plate,” but something spiritual and instrumental happens in a moment of sacrificial giving. It’s one of the ways we worship, and it’s a form of worship that does something—namely, it makes feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and housing the widows and single moms of our city possible. It makes it possible for us to host and officiate funerals for people who’ve never set foot in our church, but who need to be dignified and remembered in the moment of death.

To Brady and Pam Boyd, our senior pastors, who obeyed God and showed up here not having known a single person, who were yet willing to do the hard work of giving your lives here for the sake of a congregation you would grow to love and who would grow to love you, thank you. You’ll probably never know the mark you’ve made on our church and our city.

To every staff member, to every elder, to every family, to every hospitality worker and parking lot attendant, to every usher and greeter and café server, to every bookstore worker, to every band or choir member, to every person that’s ever served in the children’s ministry, past or present, who has taken God seriously and prayed resolutely for God’s kingdom to come and his will to be done in Colorado Springs as it is in heaven, thank you.

To God, who alone deserves all glory and honor for everything good that’s happened at New Life Church over the last thirty years, we give thanks.

Advertisements

A Pastor’s Midnight Musings

It’s midnight, and my wife and three kids are sound asleep. Another Sunday night walk is in the books. I’m a pastor; that’s what I do.

Yes, today was the day, the Lord’s Day, the one day each week when Christians from the four winds of our city come together in the same place. And while we know we’ve been sent by the Spirit into our city to be poured out, we also believe a weekly infilling precedes any over-brimming; giving is only made possible by first having received; a herald is only as good as what she has heard.

So today a group of us gathered at New Life Church to lift our voices to God in praise and thanksgiving, and to feast on the Scriptures. We came to confess our sins, getting rid of the very poison that, if left unchecked, neutralizes the nourishment found in the sacrifice of Jesus, his broken body and shed blood. And right before we left, we heard the Benediction, the weekly now-get-back-out-there-and-go-for-it-because-you’ve-been-empowered-by-the-Spirit prayer of blessing.

And that’s why I went on a walk. Because with so much beautiful activity crammed in the span of just a few short hours, I have found that a walk is about the only way for me to begin to absorb it all.

On this particular Sunday night walk, I thought about a friend who I saw today at church. He’s in his mid-sixties, has an advanced post-graduate degree with a long, successful career that followed it, and just over a year ago he was running long distance races. Today at church he sat slumped in a wheelchair, depleted of energy, barely able to speak, and suffering from a mysterious condition that doctors haven’t been able to diagnose. He insists on coming to church, and he insists on being wheeled down front to the altar for prayer after every service.

I thought about his darling wife who faithfully gets him up every week, shaves his face, dresses and feeds him, and loads his handsome 6’5’’ frame and his wheelchair in their tiny car to come worship Jesus.

I thought about the privilege of being asked to wheel him down front for prayer, and the privilege of wheeling him out to his car after we were done.

I thought about the privilege of him wanting to expend the little energy he has talking to me about the fact that we both played college basketball, separated by a span of thirty-five years.

I thought about the vulnerability it must have taken him to ask me to lift him into his car, and the gentleness that comes with having to have someone buckle you in your seat.

I pondered how costly an act of worship it was for them to even be in the sanctuary this morning. And then I wondered if I would have the same gritty “somebody take me to church!” mentality if I found myself in the same situation. (I quietly prayed to be found faithful.)

And when I had buckled my friend in his seat, I hugged him and kissed him on top of his bald head. (Remember, the feeble need affection in a most pronounced way.) I told him that I’m honored to go to the same church as him. I told him that he’s an example for us all of what it means to live faithfully. I told his wife that she’s as sweet as they come, and that any of us would be lucky to have someone as gracious as her, and that the Lord couldn’t be any more pleased with her life of generous service to her husband.

I meant every word.

Then after pondering all that, as I was nearing the end of my late-night walk, it hit me: How sad that people willingly choose to forgo a gift so beautiful as the church.

Come to church, friends. And keep your eyes open, because if you do, and if you have even the slightest bit of imagination, you’ll see the blazing beauty of God on full display. Sometimes it’ll be wrapped in frailty, transported around by wheelchair, and sometimes it’ll be gleefully running the aisles in the faces of little children; sometimes the beauty will take the form of bold and sacrificial giving, and other times it’ll be heard in the elemental cry to be known and loved. But beauty you will surely find in the church.

For if Jesus has made her his Bride, she must be some kind of special.

Theophany and “Theo-Anthrophany”

This is from a Twitter rant I posted the other day:

With all that’s wrong with the world, many are praying for a Theophany. We want God to show up afresh…

…Israel prayed that, too, classically given voice by the prophet Isaiah: “O that you would rend the heavens and come down!”…

…But the truth is, God answered that prayer at the first Advent. Theophany happened in Jesus Christ of Bethlehem…

…And by His Spirit, the world we live in is ever and always theophanically charged with the life made available to us by Jesus…

…So while many are praying for Theophany, Jesus is at the right hand of the Father, & in us by His Spirit, praying for a “Theo-Anthrophany”…

…Jesus is praying that WE will grow up and be the carriers of the Image that we ALREADY ARE…

…Jesus is praying that WE will start sorting out hatred w/ the love he demonstrated to us in his life-giving-life and death-defeating-death…

…Jesus is praying that WE will get to the place where we defend the weak and disenfranchised, where WE would lay down our lives…

…WE believers are the agents through which Jesus establishes his Father’s kingdom “on earth as it is in heaven”…

…We are waiting on Jesus, but, in a very real sense, He is waiting on US to tend the garden of His creation that He entrusted to us…

…The question I’m asking myself is, “Am I waiting on JESUS to do something that he’s commanded and empowered ME to do already?”

It Will Not Always Be This Way

This morning I awoke to an unexpected gift: a gentle rain and 40-degree weather.

Pike’s Peak, the dominating feature of our city’s landscape, was nowhere to be found. Like children tucked under the bed sheets in a game of hide-and-seek, Pike’s was tucked away under the cover of a low-lying fog.

This may not sound like a big deal to most people, but for one living in the drought-stricken high desert of nearly 7,000 feet, rain is always received with great joy. Water is never taken for granted.

The shift in weather had me pondering a common thread of human existence: difficulty, hardship, suffering, pain.

One of the unique features of being a pastor is walking so regularly and so closely with people through the sweltering “summers” of trial and hardship. Praying with people as they grieve the loss of the family business. Mourning the unexpected death of a child. Listening to a daughter who has lived for 10 years under the cruelty of an abusive father.

I’ve witnessed plenty “summers” of deep sadness.

And then

And then, at some mysterious moment in time, I’ve noticed people in grief get up one morning and walk outside to find that there’s something of a reprieve from the heat of hardship, like that first morning when Fall barometrically announces it’s arrival. There’s a crispness in the air, a fresh wind blowing, a Presence that would have us know that there is newness coming. A Voice announcing, It will not always be this way.

And that’s what I found this morning when I woke up—an announcement: it will not always be this way. There is newness on the horizon.

Fall arrives every year as a rebuke to Summer’s unremitting desire to scorch. Fall serves an eviction notice to something that is good, but only good for a season. “To everything there is a season”, cries Qohelet.

God in the weather. God in the changing seasons. God escorting out the heat that, if left unchecked, gets unbearable. God telling good stories about his faithful love in the earth’s yearly dance around the sun. God gracing and kissing the ground with water again. God brooding over the foggy mountains. God blowing in the trade winds.

It will not always be this way, says our Lord the Spirit to all those who are crushed in spirit.

So we pray today for those running through the scorching Iraqi, Syrian, Lebanese deserts…a reprieve from the frantic running-for-your-life existence you’ve known. It will not always be this way.

We pray today for those wracked by the Ebola virus…a shift in the winds, a healing of the land. It will not always be this way.

We pray for the elderly who are in pain and waiting to enter into their long-awaited rest…a fresh watering. The Spirit is moving in with the clouds to brood over your lives. It will not always be this way.

We pray for the orphans on the run through the Burmese hillsides…may you find green pastures, quiet waters, and restoration for your souls. It will not always be this way.

We pray these things in the Name of Jesus Christ, who came to announce to a fractured world, It will not always be this way.

Amen.

Sermon Series: “Getting Smashed for Jesus”

I wanted to share this sermon from one of my favorite scholars, Dr. Walter Brueggemann. Pastoral ministry, like any job, provides its share of opportunities for pain and heartache, unmet expectations and relational disappointments. I appreciate Walter’s concern to help us all understand the value of some of the “smashings” we’ve all endured. Grace to you…DG

TIME

Read sermons from additionalspeakers provided to TIME by the Festival.

Have you ever, as a preacher, had a good idea, and then looked for a good biblical text to fund it?…I thought so…Well, you are probably not the last preacher who will do that. And you are certainly not the first to do it. Consider Paul. He wanted to write his vexed church in Corinth. He saw that they had confused major matters and minor items, majoring in minor stuff to the neglect of major stuff. They were preoccupied with class distinctions, differences between Jewish and Gentile folk, arguments about circumcision, and right food, insiders and outsiders, even some lawsuits, all the usual stuff that makes for church quarrels. Paul wants to call them out. But you could not just do that, especially from a remote distance by a letter.

He had to find a biblical text. You can…

View original post 3,066 more words

The Spiritual Discipline of Scribbling

Journal Pic

 

A few years ago, I began preaching weekly—an invigorating, and simultaneously daunting and demanding, task. Previously, I had the good fortune of being an occasional preacher, filling in for people who were on vacation or who turned up sick. As a fill-in, very often you get to preach your “greatest hits”—the sermons that are in you, the ones you could stand up and preach without notes, the ones that you are confident will be a Home Run—whatever that might mean, anyway.

As any weekly preacher knows when she/he steps out of the pulpit on Sunday afternoon, the clock is ticking. Next Sunday will be here in no time. Which means a sermon must be prepared.

So, what did I do in my transition from fill-in preacher to weekly preacher? I became an apprentice in the Spiritual Discipline of Scribbling.

I bought a stack of pocket-sized notebooks so that I could have one with me everywhere I go. I bought a case of legal pads and kept one on my desk at all times. My baseline assumption became, I’ll never be able to scribble too much. You just don’t know when a fruitful thought might come to you.

I began to practice for spontaneity, working to “turn a phrase” that I found recurring in the text. I would try to translate the phrase in three or four different ways, not because I was going to use that in my sermon, but because I wanted to develop facility with these words. I would draw a picture of what I thought the text was saying–even though I’m a terrible “artist”. A goal for the preacher is to have internalized these words so much that they naturally begin to find shape on the tongue.

I would attempt to craft transition sentences that would thread two seemingly independent thoughts into a seamless whole. These segue sentences would serve as the hinge on which my sermon would turn.

My point here is that spontaneity is anything but spontaneous, whether you’re a preacher or a jazz saxophonist. It is a skill one deliberately develops. Wynton Marsalis can improvise only because he’s internalized every scale and is intimately acquainted with all the jazz standards.

Words are like a thousand little puzzle pieces—pretty random when strewn about on the table, but beautiful when organized, shaped, placed properly so that a larger picture can be seen.

My contention is that regular doodling with words can serve as a development of linguistic “muscle memory” so that when a situation arises and a word is needed, one will be “in shape”, one will be prepared.

Eleventh-century Christian mystic, Meister Eckhart, famously wrote, “Only the hand that erases can write the true thing.” The assumption he makes is that one will have something to erase. One is writing more than what is necessary. Thus, it stands to reason that the hand that does not have something to erase will never write the true thing.

So we jot, sketch, chicken-scratch, draw, paint and design ourselves ever deeper into the mysteries. And in doing so fewer of our words will “fall to the ground.”

I thank the Creator for every night Teresa of Avila stayed up late praying, grappling with God and endeavoring to write something true. Because she did, the church is more prepared to live faithfully. I praise God for all the hours John and Charles Wesley spent crafting hymns that have served the church for 300 years. Because they did, we can know what to sing whether we’ve “gone up to the heavens” or “made our bed in Sheol.” We won’t forget the effort that people like Flannery O’Connor and Henri Nouwen exerted for our benefit. And these are a just few in a long line of sacred scribblers.

I find it interesting that over and over again God told the prophets and apostles to “write this down” (Exod. 17:14; Ps. 102:18; Hab. 2:2; Rev. 1:19, 19:9-11, 21:5). Writing is a part of our Christian identity. “Chicken-scratching” our way toward faithfulness is a family tradition.

As each new generation is summoned to probe into the vast terrain of the Triune God, I have a sneaking suspicion that we’re going to need to order a few more legal pads.

 

 

 

Dripping Wet: Developing a Christian Imagination for Baptism

Another Lent has come and gone. This last week we made the journey with the faithful–and with many more still feeble in faith–to the tomb where we discovered that it is still empty! Thanks be to God for that. And now priests, pastors, and parishioners around the world are preparing for baptisms this Sunday. But why is baptism the next (theo)logical movement in the Church’s calendar year?

Historically, Lent has been set aside as a time of preparation for the catechumenate–the people who are coming to faith for the first time, or those who are returning to their First Love after a season, however long, of wilderness wandering. Lent, you see, is a death before a resurrection, a time of releasing the weights and sins that so easily entangle us so that we can run with perseverance. We know that once we make the journey to the tomb-that-we-hope-is-still-empty, we’ll have plenty of work to do.

The Church, therefore, has taught that after the period of Lenten training, one is properly prepared to enter the waters of baptism. But what is baptism? What is going on in baptism?

To begin, we remember that baptism requires water. If we open the first page of the Bible, before we read the creation story we find the Spirit hovering over the primordial waters. This detail is not throwaway. Water is an essential part of the Christian story:

  • YHWH sends The Deluge in Noah’s time. Water cleans out and water creates new possibilities.
  • Baby Moses floating the Nile in a basket. The future rescuer is rescued from the treacherous waters.
  • Crossing the Red Sea. Israel is saved and separated from her oppressors through water.
  • Water from the Rock in the wilderness. Even the arid wilderness, we’re told, gushes for YHWH.
  • Crossing the Jordan River into the Promised Land. Obstinance is washed away before land is possessed.
  • Naaman the Leper dips seven times. God heals this scoundrel ruler of a foreign army through a washing.
  • Jesus walks on water. Jesus turns water into wine.
  • Jesus says, “Peace be still.” A storm ceases.
  • Jesus says to the woman at the well, “Whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
  • Jesus says that from believer’s bellies will flow “rivers of living water”, and by this he meant the Spirit.
  • Revelation 22 imagines the “River of Life that flows from the throne of God and of the Lamb.” The tree of life stands on both sides of the river, bearing twelve crops of fruit (to feed the Twelve Tribes!), “and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.”

On and on it goes–water, water, more holy water.

Jesus himself insisted on being baptized, getting in on the work his Father was doing in the deep end of the pool. Through water Jesus is anointed with the Spirit and declared a son. His ministry is inaugurated and power released as he comes up from the depths.

John the Baptizer himself, a man known for doing his best work down in the Jordan River, said: “I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.

The Greek verb bapto means “to dip” or “to dye”. In baptism we are “dipped” into newness, the old sin-story being washed away, carried downstream by the currents of the Spirit. We begin to see our baptism as a divine coloration, a “dye-ing”, our lives increasingly tinted by shades of Christ’s love, holiness, and glory.

What is especially important about the Christian rite of baptism is The Story going on within and beyond the story that we see playing out in the water in front of us—the reality that this person splashing around in water is being baptized with the Holy Spirit and fire, right here, right now. In baptism, we believe we are watching the simultaneous decimation and reconstruction of a life by the Spirit who is called Holy. Baptism is a drowning and a rescue all at the same time. Baptism is the release from slavery into the glorious freedom of the children of God.

Marilynne Robinson, in her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, Gilead, has provided us one of the most sanctified accounts of water. In a vivid scene, she writes:

“The sun had come up brilliantly after a heavy rain, and the trees were glistening and very wet. On some impulse, plain exuberance, I suppose, the fellow jumped up and caught hold of a branch, and a storm of luminous water came pouring down on the two of them, and they laughed and took off running, the girl sweeping water off her hair and her dress as if she were a little bit disgusted, but she wasn’t. It was a beautiful thing to see, like something from a myth. I don’t know why I thought of that now, except perhaps because it is easy to believe in such moments that water was made primarily for blessing, and only secondarily for growing vegetables or doing the wash.”

Every morning I try to get up early to have a shower before my three kids stir. It is one of the few quiet moments of my day and it has become a time of holy reflection for me, my daily “mini-baptism” where I think to myself, “What if it’s true? What if water was made for blessing?”

We come up out of the baptismal waters and someone hands us a towel. We quickly dry off and celebrate this momentous occasion with family and friends. But the truth is we never really dry off. The Spirit within us guarantees a life drenched in the grace of God. Baptized Christians walk around dripping wet.