Friday, March 28, 2008

In the Presence of the Living Christ

Sometimes God brings readings, songs, even films or TV shows along that hit me right where I am... that speak to my soul and help me connect to God again. That happened yesterday morning. I was up early and reading A Guide to Prayer for All Who Seek God. One of the readings, by retired United Methodist Bishop Rueben P. Job, really spoke to me. Check this out:

At this very moment when I write and at the very moment when you read these words, you and I are in the presence of the living Christ. To remember this truth is to be shaped constantly by the presence of God in Christ in our lives. We often forget this central truth of the Christian faith, and when we do, we are easily overcome by the troubles of the world.

For me, what I write will pass before the eyes of the One about whom I write. As I write, I hope that my ordinary life and ordinary capacity will be energized, directed, and used by the One who gives me life and has called me to this ministry. If I allow myself to think that this ministry and this project are all up to me, I risk feelings from despair to arrogance. However, if I remember that I am not alone, but think, work, and live in the presence of the living Christ, I remain hopeful that even the most simple and ordinary task carried out in that presence and with the assistance of Jesus Christ is sacred, meaningful, and useful.

For you, what you read comes not from the word processor of someone full of years and short of energy or imagination. For these words are now read and heard in the presence of Jesus Christ who is able to use the most simple and ordinary word and events to enlighten, comfort, heal, and direct the seeking heart.

The risen Christ is with us and therefore we need not fear the events of this day or any day that lies in our future. We know that each day will be lived in companionship with the only One who is able to rescue, redeem, save, keep, and companion us through every experience of this life and the next.

This realization does not take away the pain or uncertainty that life holds. But it does give us strength, wisdom, guidance, and most of all, a Companion to travel through each of these experiences with us. Easter Sunday and every Sunday are gentle yet dramatic reminders that we are not alone or on our own. As followers of Jesus, we walk with God in Christ, and that makes the journey rich in meaning, joy, and peace no matter where it leads. Jesus Christ is alive and reads with you now words that are intended to turn your eyes, heart, and life more fully toward God.

A Door Closes

Just to keep you in the loop... After a discussion with BOSS's pastor, it looks like we will not be moving to Sacramento. I'm not discouraged by this development. Honestly, I'm relieved. Every door that closes is an answer from God, who is always at work behind the scenes. He's not surprised by this development... It's just moving us one step closer to what He has in mind for us. I am grateful to BOSS for the relationship we've had, and I wish them God's best as they continue their search.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Imagine

Imagine a funky neighborhood arts center... a performing arts space where one weekend you might see a cool ethnic dance performance and the next an indie-rock concert. Kids entertainment would dominate Saturday mornings. Independent filmmakers would line up to screen their newest works. Authors would read and sign their newest books. Opera singers would give fun summer recitals. There would be awesome summer theater opportunities for kids and adults.

Now imagine that this theater was owned by a church. And that this church understood that God can be found in all kinds of unexpected places. This church understood that all truth and beauty are rooted in the truth and beauty of God and are to be celebrated. Imagine this church hosting conferences and festivals, workshops and internships in art/music. Imagine artists, musicians, filmmakers, actors... feeling welcomed and celebrated by the church. Knowing that they are loved and appreciated. Knowing that they have a place to perform their songs, display their paintings, stage their dances and plays.

Imagine the Kingdom of God seeping into unexpected places. Imagine unexpected partnerships and joyous reunions. Imagine people "belonging" to this church long before they even believe... because they know they are welcome and appreciated. Imagine art commissioned by the church to be used in worship in imaginative ways. Imagine artists coming to the church to hear the choir perform their new piece and inviting their friends!

Imagine a new film festival where the entries focus on the intersection between faith and art. Imagine a weekend faith and arts conference where artists who happen to be people of faith perform and talk about life, art and faith... People like Buddy & Julie Miller, Michelle Shocked, Emmylou Harris, Sufjan Stevens, Bruce Cockburn, Sam Phillips, Over the Rhine, the innocence mission, Allen Clapp... Imagine that amazing weekend!

Imagine young people influenced by this amazing faith/arts community heading back to their communities and making amazing contributions in faith and arts and authentic community...

Imagine the church actually knowing what's going on in the world of the arts and having a vital voice. Being heard... Not because we're boycotting, but because we're participating. Because we're leading. Imagine Christians being know by what we're for rather than by what we're against.

This is already happening in really cool ways. Look at this conference. Check out this church and art center. I love this festival.

I want this. It's all I can think about.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

OT Violence Versus the NT Jesus

In his blog, author/pastor Greg Boyd has been doing some awesome work on the apparent contradictions between the violence of God in the Old Testament and the love and nonviolence of Jesus in the New Testament. This is a topic I've wrestled with for years, and I think it's something all believers need to be able to discuss intelligently. So many skeptics ask these questions, and for good reason! The God of the Old Testament doesn't seem like a God I really want to have much to do with sometimes...

The conversation starts here.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Nightingale Update

Thanks to all who have asked and prayed. Here's an update along with ways you can be praying for us.

I'm in relationship with two awesome churches: BOSS & Highrock. They are both Covenant churches, and we're all just praying for God's timing, direction and guidance. Am I the right man for their ministries? Are they the right faith communities for our family? As I consider my family and our varied needs and passions, what does God have for all of us? And it's just as likely that God has something completely different in mind for us. (Email me if you want details on these places... I'm happy to provide some specifics.)

It would be easy for us to freak out, and - truth be told - sometimes we do. A last day and a last paycheck is coming, and we still have no idea where we'll be in six months. But the truth is that Luanne and I and are family are safe in God's hands. He's the one who called us out, and He's the one who has a perfect plan for all of us.

For now I know this: I'm going to give my very best to the Lord's work at Peninsula Covenant Church for these next seven days. There will be a last band practice tomorrow night and a last choir practice Thursday night. Sunday will be a great day of worship and a chance to say "goodbye" in an official way after Sunday Night. (If you're anywhere near, come on out!) On April 10, there's a cool event at the Little Fox Theatre in downtown RWC. Luanne and I are so humbled and grateful... The Matt Nightingale Band will be playing live one last time, and there are sure to be lots of fun surprises. (Here's a link to the Evite... If you can make it, let me know and I'll get you invited.)

We'll be staying in our house until the end of April. On the 26th, if nothing at another church has come through, we'll move south to Simi Valley, where we'll live with Luanne's folks temporarily.

We appreciate your prayers. Please continue to lift us up to the Lord as we seek His next steps for us in life and ministry. Here are some ways you can pray specifically:
  • Pray for initiative for me... That I would know where to look and be diligent in my seeking and "putting myself out there."
  • Pray for clear direction from God about the places we're already in relationship with... both for the churches and for our family.
  • Pray for good financial decisions on our part - the ability to spend and save carefully during this transitional time. And for opportunities to make money - maybe guest worship leading opportunities, conferences, camps, etc.
  • Pray for us as we say goodbye to some of the best friends of our lives (still so strange to think about!). We want to spend quality time with everyone, and there's just not time. Pray for us to be able to express the reality of our love for people.
  • Pra for Josh, Jake, Emily and Zach as they, too, have to wrap up relationships and say goodbye to friends, church and school. Pray for their education. We'll be home-schooling for the remainder of this school year.
  • Pray for packing and the move.
So thankful for your friendship and support. Stay tuned!

Rice on Easter

Anne Rice has written a beautiful essay on her faith. I recommend it highly. Read it here.

One of my favorite quotes:

"On the afternoon in 1998 when faith returned, I experienced a sense of the limitless power and majesty of God that left me convinced that He knew all the answers to the theological and sociological questions that had tormented me for years. I saw, in one enduring moment, that the God who could make the double helix and the snow flake, the God who could make the black holes in space, and the lilies of the field, could do absolutely anything and must know everything --- even why good people suffer, why genocide and war plague our planet, and why Christians have lost, in America and in other lands, so much credibility as people who know how to love. I felt a trust in this all-knowing God; I felt a sudden release of all my doubts. Indeed, my questions became petty in the face of the greatness I beheld. I felt a deep and irreversible assurance that God knew and understood every single moment of every life that had ever been lived, or would be lived on Earth. I saw the universe as an immense and intricate tapestry, and I perceived that the Maker of the tapestry saw interwoven in that tapestry all our experiences in a way that we could not hope, on this Earth, to understand."

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Identity

Well, I'm here in Boston. It's 3 in the morning here, but I'm still wide awake. It's so cool when your unknowns start becoming known.

I think one of the things I struggle with the most is the temptation to try to be someone I'm not. To try to be cool or funny or witty or intelligent or relevant. I think it's the trying that becomes the problem for me. And in a situation like this, where I'm looking for the place where I will fit in, where I will be the right man for the job, I want to hide behind a mask, to try to be someone I'm not.

My prayer in all of this, from the very beginning, is that I will simply be who I am, a man of God saved by the grace of God through my savior, Jesus. I have gifts and abilities that God has graciously given me to steward, and there's a plan and a purpose for my life. I am deeply loved by my Dad in Heaven, and He is making me into the man He wants me to be. As Philippians 1:6 so beautifully puts it, "He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus."

As is often the case, another song has hit me hard, this time as I was flying over North Carolina tonight. Andrew Osenga, formally of The Normals and currently of Caedmon's Call, recorded a solo record this last summer and is giving it away for free on his website. This song is a stunner, and I'm posting it so you can be encouraged by it too. The words were exactly what I needed tonight.



Swing Wide the Glimmering Gates
Andrew Osenga

I caught myself looking in the mirror
Wishing I was someone else
I was born with a bleeding heart
and veins of loneliness

And I know it, I’ve seen it, I’ve held it in my arms
But love can’t seem to break me down
And I’ve pleaded, I’ve begged and I’ve bloodied my eyes
Just to feel it, to believe it will stick around

Swing wide the glimmering gates

I told myself the habits and secrets
Were just to get me through, to get me through the nights
But I got lost in a world of angles,
In a city of greys and lies

And I feel it, I taste it, this longing to be free
Oh, the joy of believing like a child
So you, you there listening, will you send up a prayer
for me, to help me find the light

Swing wide the glimmering gates
Leave your pride and pain
Swing wide the glimmering gates
And be innocent again

One day I believe I will open up my eyes
Just to see the good work that was begun
And I’ll be the only things I’ve ever wanted to be
And I’ll know that I belong

Swing wide the glimmering gates
Leave your pride and pain
Swing wide the glimmering gates
And be innocent again

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Heading for Boston

So I'm heading out tomorrow afternoon. God, show me Your ways. Your plans. Your will. Give me the insight and discernment I need, and give me the strength to obey when I hear your voice.

Would love your prayers, friends! And please pray for Luanne and the kids as they're here alone. It's always a challenge to be without Dad & Husband.

Thanks to a blogging friend, Richard J., who wrote about this journey of faith in his blog today.

"You Don't Need To Wait For The Answers..."

God used this song to release a lot of emotion and connection with Him today. I love how He uses music in me to help me express my feelings... It's "Free" by Hillsong written by Marty Sampson. Give it a listen. Buy the album here.



Would you believe me if I said
That we are the ones who can make the change in the world today?
Would you believe me if I said
That all of the dreams in your heart can come true today?
And would you believe me if I said
That life could be all that you want it to be today?

And if I had wings I would fly
Cause all that I need You are
And if the world caved in around me,
To You I'd still hold on,
Cause You're all that I believe
And You're the One that created me
Jesus, because of You,
I'm free!

Would you believe me if I said
That God can make miracles happen today?
Would you believe me if I said
That you don't need to wait for the answers before You step out in faith?
And would you believe me if I said
That nothing is ever impossible for God?

And if I had wings I would fly
Cause all that I need You are
And if the world caved in around me,
To You I'd still hold on,
Cause You're all that I believe
And You're the One that created me
Jesus, because of You,
I'm free!

Just live your life with God inside
You won't regret one moment of it
Just give all that You can for God... for God!

And if I had wings I would fly
Cause all that I need You are
And if the world caved in around me,
To You I'd still hold on,
Cause You're all that I believe
And You're the One that created me
Jesus, because of You,
I'm free!
I'm free!
I'm free!

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Giving My Best for One More Month

I've been feeling strange for a long time. I've known in my heart that I was leaving PCC since August. Staff meetings, especially ones where we would look into the future and talk about vision and new initiatives, were increasingly uncomfortable. The pinnacle was back in January when our whole staff went to Marin for our annual overnight staff retreat. I was miserable. I felt like I was lying to everyone, and I had absolutely nothing to say about the upcoming year. It's not that I didn't love or believe in the mission of PCC. I remember telling someone that it felt like I was on a plane with these people, but that they were going to continue on to another destination and I was going to get off the plane at the next airport. It's hard to get excited about Paris when you know you're getting off in London. I was really excited about London, but I couldn't talk about it yet, and it was really lonely and weird. Thank God for Tony. He knew about it and could pray and talk with me...

I feel much better about everything since talking to Gary and letting the church in on everything. I hate living in secrecy. I am the kind of man who wants it all out on the table. I believe that we actually can do things in a grown-up, godly way and deal honestly with one another. So I've been delighted with the response that I've gotten from most people.

Some people just don't get it, and they won't. It's one thing to talk about following Jesus and taking risks; it's quite another to walk away from a community and a job that you love just because you're convinced Jesus is leading you away. Especially when you don't have a job you're going to! I had a good friend (who gets it, by the way) comment on how very "un-American" what we are doing is. I hadn't thought of it that way before. I do fear peoples' reactions, I have to admit. I don't want to be thought of as irresponsible or foolish. I have a wife and four kids to care for!

But I know that God is leading, and it's not just away from something. He's taking us somewhere. I pray all the time that He will reveal His next step to us and that we will discern what that is and obey Him.

I am really excited about my week coming up in Boston. In addition to spending a week in a really cool place, I'll get to hang out with some people I respect and like even though I barely know them. God seems to be up to something, and the very worst that can happen is that I make some great friends and connections for the journey.

So back to PCC. My challenge is this: I find myself so focused on our next season that I have a difficult time being present. I have to pray every day that God will help me to give my best to PCC. And for those of you who are PCC friends, please don't take this personally. You know I love and value you... It's just that this is big for us. It's really hard not to count down the days. It's hard not to focus on the fact that there are only 4 more Sundays for me to lead at PCC. When I look back at the last 8 years, I figure I've led approximately 1,000 worship gatherings. Now I'm down to 12. 24 hours from now it'll be 9. So strange.

God, help me to keep my head in the game! To give my very best to this wonderful group of people. To remember that I am still called here for the next 30 days. Pour your love and life through me and into the people who need me. Help me to say "goodbye" with grace and love and excellence.

A Literary Tag

Well, I've been tagged again, this time by my good friend Zanne over at Souliloquies. The instructions:

(1) Pick up the nearest book (of at least 123 pages)
(2) Open the book to page 123
(3) Find the fifth sentence
(4) Post the next three sentences
(5) Tag five people

Here we go... So the closest book is Reconciliation Blues by Edward Gilbreath. (Recommended to me by BOSS lead pastor Bishop Sherwood Carthen. So far it's a very eye-opening read. Highly recommended.)

The three sentences: "For his part, the Reverend has refused to discuss the matter beyond his initial statement asking his friends and supporters for "forgiveness, understanding and prayers." Still, when addressing other issues, he occasionally invokes biblical themes of forgiveness and restoration that hint at something more personal. "We must honor the ethic of the Ten Commandments," Jackson told me, "even if we fall and break them."

Let's see... I'll tag Josh, Jeff & Lisa, Kim, Suzie and Jenell & Chelsea.
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