Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Things are happening

Technology is amazing! I’m at JFK airport in New York waiting for our flight home. Pop open my laptop with my wireless card and, voila, I’m online!

Yesterday’s breakfast with Pete Scazzero was wonderful. We had a great time of getting to know each other and talking about the Emotionally Healthy Church principles and history. It was exciting to hear about how the Lord birthed this stuff in Pastor Pete’s heart, and how open-handed his leadership and congregation are to giving him away as the Lord opens the doors of ministry across the country.

He is definitely open to coming to Southern California with the seminar. It was exciting to talk about how this could happen. Later that morning, I received a call from my friend, Steve Pope, Pastor of Royal Avenue Baptist Church and one of the primary driving forces behind our local Pastor’s Prayer Group.

He spoke with his Association Director (similar to our District Supervisor) about The Emotionally Healthy Church. Steve said his response was that he wants his whole Association (Ventura County Southern Baptist Churches) to be a part of the Seminar when it happens. Please pray that the Lord opens the hearts of pastors and leaders across the entire Southwest region of our nation to come and partake.

I believe that what the Lord has birthed in Pastor Pete’s heart is desperately needed for Pastors and in churches today. So many Pastors I talk to that have everything going for them (some are pastors of very large churches) and seem to have all the signs of "success" are still wondering what’s missing and why they’re dying inside. You would probably be surprised at how many Pastors find themselves in, or on the verge of, burnout ... same place I found myself four years ago.

After our breakfast, we did our last stint of time in Manhattan with a visit to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. Just awesome. From there, we rode to the UN Headquarters and then walked over to the Empire State Building, walking through Grand Central Station on the way. What an amazing place! The view from the Empire State Building was absolutely incredible.

The rest of the evening may have been the most fun. We were consistently told that the place for pizza in New York City is Grimaldi’s. It’s a hole in the wall (actually a small building tucked under the Brooklyn Bridge) that was authentic as it gets.

It’s the only coal-fired oven pizza left in New York. A pizza literally cooks in 90 seconds! And the taste was just incredible – fresh everything. All the way down to the red and white checkered table covers and a tiny room PACKED with customers. I felt like we were at dinner with the couple next to us, we were that close.

The open hotel room window allowed for the true sounds of New York experience through the night – horns, sirens, screeching brakes. But we’re ready for the quiet night of Simi Valley. See you when we get home.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Another Full Day

The conference yesterday was just as I expected – confirmation of this material being so right for the Church-at-large really, though particularly timely for NewHeart. I am excited to have our Staff, Church Council and Leaders process it this year. Yesterday's Psalm in our Bible Reading was Psalm 90, which concludes with my prayer for this weekend and season:

"May the favor of the Lord our God rest upon us; establish the work of our hands for us — yes, establish the work of our hands."
I am also excited to have breakfast with Pete Scazzero in the morning! It’s my hope that we’ll connect well enough to have him accept an invitation to come to Southern California. I have a couple of Pastors already willing to participate in bringing The Emotionally Healthy Church to our region of the nation and strongly believe it would be very beneficial. We’ll see what happens ... if you read this post in time, please be praying. We meet at 8:30 am (5:30 am PST).

We attended New Life Fellowship this morning and thoroughly enjoyed the celebration. It’s a church of 800-900 people and they meet in an old Elks Lodge. They’ve been meeting there for around 10 years but just purchased it about 18 months ago.

It’s a building with significant history in Queens. Built in the 1920's, nothing happened in the area politically without going through there first. That’s the kind of power the Elks had at the time!

New Life purchased it for A LOT of money (in the millions – I honestly don’t remember the price) and are raising funds to fix it up as they can. It was wonderful to sense the presence of the Holy Spirit as the congregation worshiped in front of a platform facade that included the masks of Indian gods and creatures that you know were not meant with the worship of Jesus in mind!

The entrance to the building has a huge concrete elk that we learned today cannot be taken down. Part of the agreement to purchase the building included the stipulation that the exterior would be granted status as a historical landmark, meaning that it can only be repaired or restored and not significantly changed.

The congregation is multi-ethnic and I just loved that! Simi Valley itself is not very multi-ethnic, but I regularly pray that the Lord would bring all races and colors and cultures and nationalities to make up who we are. There’s just something beautiful about that!

It was exciting to hear that each week, when the main teaching passage is read, it is first read in a language other than English, than read in English. Today it was read in Indonesian.

After church, we ventured back into Manhattan, where I enjoyed my first sidewalk hot dog. Not too impressive, but good and cheap, and what can you say ... it was in NEW YORK! We hopped a Gray Line double-decker bus tour through uptown Manhattan, which included Central Park and Harlem.

After dinner at Spanky’s BBQ right off Times Square (where I thoroughly enjoyed "The Full House"), we caught the last Gray Line double-decker for their "Night Loop" . After tomorrow’s breakfast meeting, we hope to catch the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty, Grand Central Station, gotta catch a cannoli in Little Italy, and grab a little something to take home to the boys, who we miss terribly. On to some shut eye ....

Friday, April 15, 2005

Ground Zero ... a little too familiar

It is beyond description to see Ground Zero. To see and be at the place where so many lost their lives all at once and to consider the profound loss of life (and in some ways, some liberties we’ve taken for granted) cannot be described. The crowds are still very large and the city has done a magnificent job allowing for access to the perimeters of the site.

One very moving place to visit there was St. Paul’s Chapel, the Episcopal Church right across the street from the Twin Towers. History records that George Washington attended there regularly and went there to pray right after his first inauguration. It was the place we all saw whose wrought iron fence was blanketed with search and rescue posters and memorials.

History will now record that this church opened her arms wide to minister to the thousands of rescue and recovery workers for the nine months of recovery and clean up of Ground Zero. The Sanctuary there holds an exhibit of the church’s service following 9/11.

We also walked over to Wall Street and the New York Stock Exchange ... Vietnam Veterans Memorial Plaza. Just as we arrived, a film crew was setting up to film some scenes of an upcoming episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. We tried to do some star sighting (we couldn’t – too cold, too long of a wait).

Dark by then, we hopped the subway to Times Square. That was awesome! The lights of Las Vegas hold nothing to Times Square. Blocks and blocks of massive video screens and huge scrolling signs. We found the Fox News Channel studios and watched a few minutes of Hannity & Colmes being filmed live. We tried to get into the shot through the window behind the anchors to no avail.

We also got to view a motorcade for someone. Don’t know who it was, but it was impressive – several NYPD cars running code 3 and a couple Secret Service-looking SUVs. It was a fun day, and we’re looking forward to a great conference tomorrow.

A little more on that – some may be wondering, “Why the focus on something like The Emotionally Healthy Church”? Scazzero’s premise in his book is that spiritual maturity and emotional maturity cannot be separated.

Too often, I (and other pastors) encounter circumstances with people (including ourselves, by the way) who certainly seem like they’ve got some things together spiritually. They either know a lot of Bible, have known the Lord for a long time, or just altogether seem to “have it together” when it comes to spiritual life. Then, something will occur that causes behavior that just makes you go, “Where did that come from?”

Through my burnout recovery (my own "Ground Zero", if you will), one of the things I discovered personally was that it is not possible to be spiritually mature and emotionally immature. When that is the case, and the winds of life blow hardship your way that causes your faith to be shaken, shipwreck occurs.

Or, you may face a conflict in your life that challenges your sense of “how things ought to be handled”, and in the name of “spiritual maturity”, your emotionally immature behavior in the circumstance is written off rather than healthily addressed. When that happens, relationships are damaged, sometimes beyond repair.

NewHeart is not much different from other churches with this kind of stuff. But I do think this truth is somehow tied to our decades-long history of shipwrecked pastorates and decayed or damaged relationships (our corporate "Ground Zero"). I think there’s something to becoming an emotionally healthy church that is key for our future, particularly in light of our past.

All in all, it’s my desire to shepherd this congregation into greater wholeness (not a place we ever "arrive" at) for however long the Lord has me assigned here. I think we’ve come a long way in almost eight years. We have some way to go – and I am very glad the Lord has us together for the journey!

I encourage you to ask questions here, or make comments. I will be sharing more about this journey we’re on as I am learning and as I am able. I know it’s my tendency to be a little long-winded, so I’ll stop for now!

Thursday, April 14, 2005

A JOURNEY to New York ...

My body tells me the TRIP started around 3:15 this morning when I rolled out of bed after a whopping 3 hours of sleep. However, the JOURNEY to New York ... Queens specifically ... began a couple years back.

My process of recovery from burnout led me to study the concept of family systems theory, both personal and corporate. Simply put, we are all put together with a complex set of beliefs, values, and ways of doing life. For any of us, those things come primarily from our "family of origin", the family we were raised in.

A little known "Kuzmaism" ... I have always been intrigued by mafia stories. I’m no expert historian on mob life; I’ve just always been interested. I think some of that is because of a deeper interest that has come to light regarding this stuff on family systems theory.
Much study has been done in the last few decades about how systems theory applies to the life of organizations, including churches. My quest toward understanding this truth led me to a couple of very good books. One of them is The Emotionally Healthy Church, authored by Peter Scazzero, Pastor of New Life Fellowship in Queens, New York.

I vividly remember reading the first few pages and thinking, "This guy is writing my story!" More to come in the next couple of days regarding all that.

For now, suffice this first post to say that the reason I am in Queens right now is to attend a conference on Saturday called "Developing Leaders in The Emotionally Healthy Church" . I have asked the Lord these last years to help me put feet to what I am learning regarding how all this impacts our church life. I believe He is showing the way and the potential resources for learning what it takes to be an emotionally healthy church. I, as one pastor, believe it may be a way toward healing that is more greatly needed than we imagine.

Our TRIP went well ... for starters, the Starbucks at LAX was right at our departing gate. Just doesn’t get much better than that. A delightful gate attendant assigned us to a row of three seats with one empty for some space ... providing for some creature comfort and a little helpful shut eye.

Our hotel shuttle driver was truly a New Yorker who skillfully guided us through some tough freeways and streets, all the while keeping a van filled with mostly Irish family members in town for a wedding talking and laughing. To top it all off, we ate at an Argentinian Steak House. In Argentina, they eat steak and pasta together – giving me the perfect way to begin such an anticipated trip – steak, fettucine with tomato sauce, and mafioso music playing in the background.

More to come ...

Friday, April 08, 2005

A Funeral To Die For!

What if you died ... and 2,000,000 - 3,000,000 people showed up for your funeral? What of people in sleeping bags and 24 hour waits reminiscent of the Rose Parade on Colorado Blvd.? Except that instead of waiting for a parade of floats, they're waiting to get a glimpse of your remains instead?

It happened in Rome this week folowwing the death of Pope John Paul II. Did you catch any of it? Absolutely amazing! A good friend of mine, Pastor Bernie Federmann from Lompoc Foursquare Church in Lompoc, CA, wrote,

"I encourage all of you to pray for the Catholic Church - the Priests and Parishes nearest you and to pray for the selection of the new Pope. The Catholic Church is filled with many fine people who truly know and love Jesus and who are truly born again. They deserve our prayers and comfort at this time. God will use your efforts of grace and mercy to touch lives for Him. God Bless the Catholic Church - Guide them, touch them, reveal in fresh ways your Son, Jesus to them. May they see beyond the candles, the traditions, cathedrals, human leaders and have an encounter with the Savior. May we all, see Jesus and serve Him."
I agree with my friend! While we all may share different opinions about the Catholic Church and the place of her Pope in their theology, one thing rings true this week: Pope John Paul II was a man who loved and served God with all his heart, and it showed. It showed not just for the last decades, but was glaring this week in the affection of those who waited to pay their respects.

Now, I know that many of those who waited did so out of religious obligation, at least in their own thinking and beliefs. However, it's clear through the many comments and tributes paid by so many who knew him personally and worked alongside him that the respect shown him this week came from what he invested in this life.

When we pass from this life to the next, what will the crowds say? Lord, may we live in this life in ways that cause people to reflect deeply when we're in the next!

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

A Story Untold ...

Mike King is one of our drummers. He and his wife, Gail, and their daughter, Christina, have been a part of our church life for many years. Last weekend, he went into the hospital as a result of some abdominal pain.

This morning, surgery to remove a plum-sized tumor that was totally blocking his large intestine revealed cancer that had spred to the small intestine as well. The doctor felt they were able to remove all the cancer, but Mike will need chemotherapy to be sure.

It was another reminder to me of how fast life can drastically change, and to live in the moments that God has given us right now. Have you ever found yourself fretting over the future only to have the Lord gently (in Mike's case, not so gently) remind you that He is the One Who holds your days in His hands?

Mike spoke to me of how overwhelmed he has been at the numbers of people who have come to see him. I was able to share with him that he is experiencing the fruit of his love and service to the Lord that he has given for so long to so many. He has no idea how many lives he has impacted as he has so faithfully served Jesus for many years. Now it's all coming back to him.

Mike is A Story Untold, one of those guys that just lives daily serving Jesus, unaware of how the grinding out of his life through its struggles and turmoil have actually been an example to others. His story is one that will live deep in the hearts of many, completely unbeknownst to him.

Folks, let's be cognizant of the fact that everything we are and do impacts the lives of those around us. Someone once said, "The biggest decisions of life are always made in the smallest corners of life." I believe this is so true, and it's bearing truth through Mike's circumstances!

Lord, let us be ever aware of how we represent you and your heart toward others!