Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Making The Move

Well, it's official. I've decided to make the move from blogger to typepad. There are many more features and it's much more user friendly than blogger.

If you have placed a link to my blog on yours, please change it to the new address: www.epicaugusta.typepad.com.

I've been double-posting the past week or two to make sure that those of you who still come here are able to keep up with the posts. After this one, no new posts will be made here. The graphic below will continuosly scroll the new posts on the typepad blog for those who still drop in here. Just click on the graphic and it will take you directly to the new blog. Hope to see you there!


Why Dreams Die

I've been giving a lot of thought lately to dreams. Not so much the dreams that we have in our sleep (although I did again have my re-occurring tornado dream the other night) but instead, the dreams that occupy our minds and hearts as we go about life doing the things that we wish we didn't have to do so we could do the things we really want to be doing - all along fearing that time will pass so quickly that we'll suddenly wake up and realize that the entirety of our life has passed and we never lived the dreams we dreamed.

I've come to believe that most people are living a life that is distantly removed from the life that once-upon-a-time they dreamed that they could, should, and would be living. Every day they wake up in the morning and wonder how in the world they arrived at the place of having to spend the day doing the things that drain their souls of life. They lay their heads on pillows and as sleep begins to overtake them, thoughts - nothing more than cerebral whispers of a hoped-for life that long ago vanished from the realm of possibility - drift teasingly in and out of their consciousness. Why do dreams die? Why do so many people exist as nothing more than biological entities plodding along from day to day both fearing and longing for the end of their days?

Every so often somebody breaks free. Like the shadow-man who escaped from Plato's cave to experience the explosive beauty, the cerebral and emotional overload of a world; an existence too marvelous for words and too insanely glorious to be believed by those who chose to kill him upon his return rather than succumb to the risky possibility that something so hopeful could really exist. I know a few of these liberated former cave-dwellers.

There was Ross. He spent his days overseeing a transcription department at a large medical clinic to provide for his growing family. Many times we would meet for lunch and he would talk about how his work parasitically drained the life from him. One day he lost his job. The responsible thing for him to do would have been to send out resumes, go through interviews, and finally land another job that would likely have completed the task of killing his soul. No...Ross ran from the cave and began chasing dreams. He found a handful of impoverished inner-city boys without fathers and spent his days teaching them how to be men of virtue. Today, nearly 10 years later, Ross is no longer chasing dreams. He caught them, or they caught him, and he lives each day with passion.

There was another friend named Kirby who also worked a responsible job to meet the needs of his family until one day he discovered that he was pretty good with some new computer technology with which you could draw cartoons. He quit his responsible job, moved his family to Southern California, and began drawing computer animated cartoons and writing screenplays. You've probably seen his work on television commercials and at the theater. Today he has caught his dreams and is living comfortably as he spends his days doing the things God has gifted him to do.

What in the world would make a guy like Patrick quit his job, pack up his wife and child, and move to Ethiopia to live among starving, diseased, dying people? A dream. A dream that he could spend his days helping a dying child smile.

Mary Lou paid her dues. She worked for years and years as a teacher, pouring her life into educating high-schoolers. It was time for retirement; time for her to take her pension and spend her days sipping tea in the shade of her backyard. But her dreams don't live in her backyard. She has chased her dreams all the way to Ghana where she is serving on a Mercy Ship bringing hope and healing to people who probably have never felt the faintest breath of hope.

I believe that people like this are in the minority. They are exceptions. They are the few who have somehow broken the shackles of reasonableness, common sense, logic, and "responsibility" in order to save their minds, hearts, and souls from the anesthetizing effects of reasonableness, common sense, logic, and responsibility. They have chosen to live, not to simply exist - to flourish, not to simply survive. But what about the rest? Why do so many of us allow our dreams to die? What stops us from dreaming and living?

When we walk through the landscape littered with dead and shattered dreams, we'll probably find that those dreams have fallen victim to one of three causes of death.

  • The dreamer succumbed to the fear of failure that always comes wrapped in packages bearing the labels of "what if."

  • The dreamer gave in to the thought that he must correct all of his own flaws before attempting to live his dreams.

  • The dreamer gave in to the voices of the many "dream-killers" who descend like vultures upon the prey of anyone who would dare to dream that life could be different.

I was sitting in church Sunday morning thinking about these things. I believe God spoke very directly and clearly to me that dreams only die when we allow them to die. Neither of the three causes of death need be so. In the following posts I'll spend some time talking more about these three dream diseases and how God has addressed them in His Word.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Free Books!

Interested in getting books for free? GO HERE!

Friday, July 07, 2006

Compliment From Across The Building

A co-worker from the other side of the building said something to me in an e-mail yesterday that, on the one hand, I enjoyed hearing but, on the other hand, made me wonder why I am this way.

She said, "You seem the type to create molds, not fill them."

I've always kind of known this about myself and I admit that most days it is something that I enjoy about the way I am made. It is also painful at times. Those who create molds rather than filling them are often looked upon as unorthodox, sometimes even rebellious. All around are voices saying,

"Why don't you just walk in line with everybody else and do things the way they've always been done."

Living this way would be easier in some ways. I'd have a lot more company on the journey. There are a lot more pieces of pottery in the world than there are potters.

But if I were to follow that advice and simply fill the molds created for me by others, I would slowly and painfully die inside and spend the rest of my days as nothing more than a mass of oxygen consuming flesh. It would be the suicide of the nature that God has given me.

Thursday, July 06, 2006


"This isn't so bad...what was all the fuss about?" These were my thoughts as the bus rumbled along the paved route out of LaPaz, Bolivia at around 8:00 am. For five years I had been hearing horror stories about the road from LaPaz to Sapecho. But as I sat for about an hour staring out the window at the beauty of the Andes mountains I was becoming more and more convinced that somebody had fallen victim to an overactive imagination. But then the pavement ended.

The ride suddenly got much bumpier and I looked up from my book to see a spectacular view. Right outside my window I saw a majestic view of the jungle-covered Andes and several miles across a chasm I saw a mountain with a thin white stripe running around it. My eye was also caught by the movement of a speck along that line. It was a bus, and the thin white line was the road ahead on which we would spend the next 12 hours or so traveling.

The bus stopped for a moment for us to disembark, take some pictures, and pray a quick "salvation check" prayer before resuming the journey.

"Okay...no big deal. I can do this," were my thoughts as the engine fired up again. I'll just enjoy the scenery. I had utmost confidence in this driver...a stranger whom I knew absolutely nothing about. One of our guides began preparing sandwiches and handing them out and to my horror, she handed one to the driver. Now, I can't count the number of times I've driven through the Burger King drive through, grabbed a burger, and eaten it while driving down the perfectly smooth 3 lane interstate. But I gotta tell you, I began to feel a bit agitated (okay, a lot agitated) when someone who shared my feelings looked into the cab to see him eating with one hand and navigating this road with the other!

You'll have to go to my other blog to see the pictures - blogger.com won't upload them for some reason. Pictures are here:
Epic Augusta

Now I'm a pretty good driver. I can eat, drink a coke, change CD's, and even read while I'm behind the wheel. But a line from one of my favorite movies comes to mind as I reflect on how I felt at that moment. After putting on the black suit "K" says to "J", "I need to tell you something about your skills: As of right now they mean precisely [jack]!

For hour after hour the 15 or so of us on this bus were absolutely vulnerable. Many times I would look out my window and not see the road...just a sheer drop-off of several thousand feet only inches from the wheel. I would instinctively lean away from the window attempting to shift some of my 180 pounds to the safe side of the bus. But several times my efforts were countered by the younger guys on the bus who all rushed to my side to lean out the window for a better view of what was sure to be impending death.

I now know, in a very real way, how it feels to be absolutely vulnerable and dependent upon the ability of someone else to keep me safe. I should mention that we made this drive twice. And the second time we made the drive - about 5 days later - most of the mountainous travel was made at night. There are no street lights or illuminated highway lines on the Yungas Highway of Bolivia which is listed as the most dangerous road in the world. Do a Google search of the keywords "world's most dangerous road" and you'll get to see many other pictures and a few news stories about the 100 or so people who die every year when their vehicles tumble off the edge.

This whole factual account is also a metaphor for life. Honestly, I feel pretty vulnerable a lot of the time. Many days I wake up feeling like, "As of right now my skills mean precisely [jack]". North Korea launched 7 missiles yesterday to provoke a response from the United States, to which they have threatened an "annihilating nuclear attack" if we do anything. Major conflict is erupting in Israel as I write this. Iran would love to play a role in the destruction of Israel...and even America if possible and is developing the technology to do it. China is on track to surpass America as the global economic and military superpower in the next 20 years.

I am paying my bills with a paycheck that comes from a company that finds itself in an industry that is in significant decline...probably only a couple decades away from extinction. The only thing I am passionate about doing with my life is church planting, yet I find myself in a city where I don't know anyone and I wonder how in the world to start.

I am absolutely, totally vulnerable and dependent upon someone else to keep me safe. And that is really cool! Because now that I recognize this I can more fully rest in the reality of Psalm 91:

"He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, 'He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust."

Surely he will save you from the fowler's snare and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.

You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday. A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you. You will only observe with your eyes and see the punishment of the wicked.

If you make the Most High your dwelling - even the Lord, who is my refuge - then no harm will befall you, no disaster will come near your tent. For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone. You will tread upon the lion and the cobra; you will trample the great lion and the serpent.

'Because he loves me,' says the Lord, 'I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name. He will call upon me and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him. With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation.'"

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Free Fall

I came across this comment posted to a friend's blog that I read daily. It moved me. This friend is wrestling with some of the same things that I find myself wrestling with here. I want to share it with you. Hopefully the original writer won't mind.

Jim Hemenway writes:

About 11 years ago I jumped out of a perfectly good airplane. Standing on the deck, feeling the wind, heart racing, feeling like I was going to be sick was the strangest, most terrified feeling I ever had before or since.

We (the instructor and I) jumped, the wind rushed. It was so loud that had I not been concentrating on all my "keys" during free fall I would have covered my ears (good thing it was loud, the noise masked by screaming like a little girl).

After what seemed like a blink, I pulled the cord, there was a sudden upward pull, and then total silence. Total peace, total calm. I will never do it again but I will carry the lessons forever. When you jump(and I am convinced you will jump eventually, you have been standing on the deck for some time now and did not even recognize it) remember others have jumped before you. We are experienced, we will lift you up in prayer and we will walk next to you as best as humanly possible.

The rush will initially be overwhelming, the noise from those around you will be deafening. A sudden jerk as God reorientates you to living his will rather than [somebody else's] will and then peace, silence, calm. Total freedom.

I will add:

This is an incedibly lonely jump. We stand on the precipice alone, we free fall alone, we experience the eventual peace and calm of the graceful descent alone. Nobody else understands the reasons for the jump nor the ways in which we jump.

Watch Me Daddy!

I spent most of my years growing up in a little town in Illinois named after some guy with the last name of Willis who had started a coal mine. The town grew up around the coal mine and flourished to a population of a couple thousand. But by the time I arrived, the mine had closed, businesses had left, and a remnant of 600 or so people were living simple lives surrounded by alternating patches of corn fields and jagged landscapes that bore the scars of being violently raped by thoughtless strip-mining machinery.

We lived in a double-wide on a couple acres of land just south of town in a little neighborhood called Dolly Hill (I assume someone named Dolly used to live there at some point). There were four of us; mom, dad, my younger sister, and me. When you walked into the front door of our home you were walking straight into the kitchen. Take a few steps and look to the right and you would have seen the sliding glass door that led into a large backyard. Look to the left, and you would be about to enter the family room; fully equipped with a color console television, an Atari 2600 system, a C.B. radio in the corner shadowed with bulletin boards on the walls holding postcards from people in far away places whose voices had at some point crackled through the radio speakers clearly enough to be able to share mailing addresses, and a big cabinet housing a AM/FM radio, turntable, 8-track cassette deck and an assortment of 8-track tapes by Dolly Parton, Hank Williams, Billy "Crash" Craddock, and several others whose music still makes my skin crawl.

Standing in the kitchen with the living room to the left and the sliding glass door to the right, you would then look straight ahead and behold the architecture common to all double-wide homes of that day; the long narrow hallway leading to the bedrooms. This was the place - the hallowed ground of athletic achievement - where I would demonstrate to my parents, my grandparents, and anyone else who cared to humor me, just how fast I could run. I think I even had people clock me with a stopwatch as I would run as fast as I could 30 feet down the hall and 30 feet back . I remember one particular time I had just gotten a new pair of tennis shoes and was sure that these shoes alone would knock about 2.7 seconds off the time it took me to run the orange shag-carpeted track. I remember many times taking position at the end of the hallway and saying, "Watch me daddy," before launching like the six-million dollar man down the narrow corridor.

As kids, we want our parents to watch us perform; but only when we know we are going to perform well. Hearing the loving affirmation of a proud parent is to the soul what oxygen is to the body. I remember a lot of those times when I knew I was doing something well and loved to hear the praise of my parents. But I remember other times when I was ashamed and embarrassed for my parents to be watching. Little League baseball is a good example. I played one season and during that whole season I only got one hit; and that one wasn't quite what the coach wanted. I hit a fastball with my left eye socket. As if my baseball career wasn't embarrassing enough already, I was forced to wear this stupid looking protective helmet for the rest of the season because the doctor said my eye would explode if that happened again...or something like that.

Not only was I embarrassed for myself, but I remember being embarrassed for my parents. I could almost feel what they had to have been feeling knowing that they were surrounded by other parents in the stands who were biting their tongues to keep from saying something like, "Man, your kid really sucks."

I'm 38 years old and I still think about these things. I still enjoying hearing my parents say, "Good job!" or "We're proud of you!" But my thoughts these days tend to go more in the direction of wondering what God thinks of me. There are times when I'm happy to know that God is watching me. I pray, "Watch me Daddy!" when I'm making a strong effort to be more sensitive toward my wife. "Watch me Daddy!" is easy for me to say when I'm standing in church singing a song or when we're going to a particular passage of scripture and I'm the first one in the row to get there. When I received my ordination as an elder in the Free Methodist Church I thought, "Watch me daddy!"

But then there are other times when He is watching, but I wish he wasn't. Like the time (okay...timeS) when everything in me wanted to flip off the guy who was driving like an idiot in front of me. I would prefer He not be watching as my fuse grows shorter and shorter with "Wanda The Wonder Slug" who is taking a half hour to check out the two people in front of me at Wal-Mart. See...I just did it again. I called that cashier a name. Hopefully He won't read this blog.

What does God think of me? I mean really...what does He really, really think and feel when He observes my life, my heart, my mind. I know all of the theologically correct things to think and say. "There is therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." "Christians aren't perfect, just forgiven" (okay, that one's from a bumper sticker). But I gotta tell you, there are a lot of times that I find myself wishing that I could just meet God at Starbucks some morning and spend a couple of hours just laying it all out on the table. Surely there have got to be times when He is just flat out pissed off at me...right? That may have been a bit irreverant. See how adept I am at this?

Mike Bickle asks some of the same questions in his book After God's Own Heart. In chapter four he invites us to ponder:

"How does God feel most of the time? Is He bored? Worried? Blase? Happy? Concerned? Detached? Engaged? Mad, glad, or sad? It sounds lighthearted, but it's one of the most important questions of our entire spiritual journey. How does God feel when He looks at you? What wells up in His heart when His eyes turn upon your life? I have asked many people this quesion over the years, and they usually respond in one of two ways:

God is mostly mad.
God is mostly sad.

And in both cases, they think it's their fault. Many Christians believe very strongly that God is angry and grieved with each of us.

Mike goes on to illuminate passages of scripture that lead us to the understanding that God is not mostly mad with us nor is he mostly sad with us. He is mostly glad! Deuteronomy 30:9 says, "The Lord your God will make you abound in all the work of your hand...For the Lord will again rejoice over you for good as He rejoiced over your fathers." Zephaniah 3:17 is another that he points to, which says, "He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing."

These are good. But there's another scripture that pretty much settles the issue for me. It reveals to me the incredibly understanding nature of God. It helps me to understand that there is nothing about me, my character, my weaknesses, my future sins that can surprise God. There will never be a moment when God will say something like, "Well, if I had known you were going to mess up like THAT I would never have wasted my time with you." There is nothing in my past that He hasn't seen. There is nothing in my future that He doesn't already know about. And because of that, I can rest in the reality that the same love and affirmation and acceptance I feel when singing a song in church will be unshaken in my worst, darkest moments of human frailty.

Praise the Lord, I tell myself; with my whole heart, I will praise his holy name. Praise the Lord, I tell myself, and never forget the good things he does for me. He forgives all my sins and heals all my diseases. He ransoms me from death and surrounds me with love and tender mercies.
He fills my life with good things. My youth is renewed like the eagle's! The Lord gives righteousness and justice to all who are treated unfairly.

He revealed his character to Moses and his deeds to the people of Israel. The Lord is merciful and gracious; he is slow to get angry and full of unfailing love. He will not constantly accuse us, nor remain angry forever. He has not punished us for all our sins, nor does he deal with us as we deserve. For his unfailing love toward those who fear him is as great as the height of the heavens above the earth.

He has removed our rebellious acts as far away from us as the east is from the west. The Lord is like a father to his children, tender and compassionate to those who fear him. For he understands how weak we are; he knows we are only dust.

Our days on earth are like grass; like wildflowers, we bloom and die. The wind blows and we are gone - as though we had never been here. but the love of the Lord remains forever with those who fear him. His salvation extends to the children's children of those who are faithful to his covenant, of those who obey his commandments!

Psalm 103:1-18

Sunday, July 02, 2006


Buzzwords. You hear them all the time. You know, those nifty little words and phrases that resonate with us at a particular moment and then tend to spread like a virus from person-to-person until finally they become such an over-used part of our vocabulary that they lose any resonant power that they may have once had. We have a lot of them in the church world.

I became a Christian in 1986 and in those days a word was beginning to make it's rounds through the Christian community and at the time it was a word that gave us a light bulb moment causing us to nod our heads and say, "Yeah...that's what we need to do!"

The word was "relevant" with its various forms: relevance, culturally relevant, etc. etc. The perception at the time among church leaders was that the ways in which we were living and gathering and worshipping as the church was not relevant to the culture around us. Therefore, we were having less and less influence on the culture outside of our church because what we were doing inside our church did not make sense or strike an emotional or spiritual chord with those on the outside.

Well...to a great extent...that perception was pretty accurate. So, we took the necessary steps to correct the course. We changed our music to sound more like the music being played in the culture (a change for which I am grateful because I believe that the organ was invented by a demon and is the primary instrument of torture in hell). We changed our buildings to make them look less like churches and more like convention centers. We changed the way we dress on Sundays so that if someone would happen to straggle in from the street we would be dressed alike (another change for which I am grateful because I can't imagine NOT wearing my jeans and sandles on Sunday...and now the trend is to leave your shirt untucked which is great because it helps me to look less fat). We started drinking coffee in church (which I know for a fact is God-ordained).

We did a lot of work to make ourselves more "culturally relevant." And the result? In America regular church participation is at its lowest point in our nation's history. The number of churches closed every year outnumbers the number of churches opened. And both Gallup and Barna research indicates that lifestyle choices made by "Christians" don't differ very much at all from lifestyle choices made by non-Christians. The divorce rate among Christians is almost identical to the divorce rate among non-Christians. Apparently, our well-intended attempts at "cultural relevance" have not had the affect for which we hoped.

Os Guinness wrote a book in 2003 called Prophetic Untimeliness. Listen to the words written on the back of the dust jacket:

"Never have Christians tried to be so relevant. But never have Christians ended up so irrelevant. How can this be? The problem, says Os Guinness, is that our views of relevance and our efforts to redefine ourselves are captive to the seductions and pressures of our modern clock culture. Ironically, we end up as neither relevant nor faithful. And in the process we are in danger of losing not only our identity but our authority, our significance, and even our very soul."

I've been thinking about relevance lately as we've thought about our ministry future here. Being relevant to the culture is a good thing. If you are a Christian in America today who desires to be used by God to impact your culture, you have to start by understanding that you are a missionary living in the midst of a pagan, pluralistic, multi-cultural society. Every effective missionary knows that to reach people, you have to learn the language of the mouth and the heart. You have to understand the prevailing worldview and the cultural customs. And then you have to be able to introduce the changeless nature of Christ into the culture in a way that grips the heart, mind, and soul.

But again (as we seem to be so good at doing) we have missed the point. By focusing all of our energy and resources on things like musical styles, clothing, beverages, building asthetics, 15-minute life improvement sermonettes, and self-help books we have still failed to actually engage the culture in ways that grip the heart, mind, and soul.

Our most obvious mistake has been that we have orchestrated all of these techniques of new & improved cultural relevance in such a way that we still require the culture to come to us to experience them and hopefully be impacted. You see, cultural relevance begins with one simple step. Being there! Being in the culture, not tucked away in our really cool, high-tech, coffee scented clubhouses huddled around hoping a pagan will walk in and sit down with us so that we can celebrate how effective we are at "reaching the culture."

I'm in the middle of a book called "The Relevant Church" by Mike Howerton. Actually, it is written by a group of people who all lead various ministries around the country and they all share their stories in short essays. I hesitated to buy it thinking to myself, "Oh brother, another book on relevance." But after skimming the table of contents, I decided it would be a good buy. And it is! I'm going to let Dustin Bagby finish this post with an excerpt from his essay in this book titled, "God Is In The Pub."

"To make an impact in the twenty-something culture, leaders need to be involved in 'real' culture, not just Christian 'subculture' events. If you are a musician, then you should be in the music clubs performing on weekends, not just at Christian coffeehouses. If you are a comedian, you should be working in the comedy clubs during the week as a way of meeting people and impacting the community. If you are an athlete, join a league and play with a random group of people, not just a church league. We encourage people to use their gifts not just 'in here,' but 'out there.'

Unfortunately, many people who have grown up in church were taught to avoid culture at all costs. They were taught that we need to form an environment in which to live and then invite other people to join. The problem is that the peoople who we are inviting to join are not coming. Now it is time to go 'out there' and meet them. I find that most of jesus' teachings are about going and harvesting. I hear very little about sitting back at an event and hoping people who are not followers will attend. Jesus always went to where the people in need were.

We need to stop inviting people to Christian events as our only form of outreach. Instead, start inviting people to spend time where they already are. There is a choice to be made here. We can either try to bring a person into our setting - however uncomfortable they may feel - or we can spend time with an individual in their setting and sacrifice our comfort. You will find people respecting your effort to get to know them on their turf. This makes the process of getting involved in a church much less intimidating (whether the person is a follower or not) simply because of the relationship and trust that has developed.

For years, we have had an evangelical mindset that says, 'We need to create a cool event that non-Christians will come to. Then we can invite a bunch of non-Christians and share the message on our turf, where we fell most comfortable.' Instead, if we are going to reach people wh are not comfortable walking into a church service on a Sunday; we need to start thinking, 'Who can I invite to grab dinner tonight?'

Cool programs will never do what time with people in a neutral or even an intimidating (for us) environment will do.'"

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Your Opinion Requested

I thrive on change and find it incredibly easy to become bored with the status quo. Keeping up with me is sometimes like chasing a snowball down a hill.

I'm contemplating a change of epic proportions. This change will affect literally thousands of people around the world therefore I can't make it quickly and without advisement. So, I'm asking for your input.

I'm contemplating moving my blog from blogger.com to typepad.com. You thought it was a bigger deal than that didn't you?

Anywho, I do need your help. Blogger is free, Typepad is not. I've spent the afternoon setting Epic up on typepad for a 30 day free trial. I would like for you to visit the blog there after reading this, and then come back here and post a comment telling me which version you like the most. Be honest.

Here's the link: Epic